We talked to Kevin Coval—the poet, teacher, author, and cofounder and artistic director of Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival—for this week’s Chicago Guide newsletter. Seriously, this guy is busy. Here, more from our conversation with Coval, who will read from his new book, L-vis Lives! Racemusic Poems, out this month from Haymarket Books, at a release party and concert 9/14 at Metro.
“First, I’m going to download this brand new EP from a former Chicago emcee and playwright and hip-hop-generation Renaissance dude, Idris Goodwin. It’s free at newschoolpoetics.bandcamp.com, and it’s called Break Beat Bars. He’s from Detroit, and he’s finishing up his second MFA, in playwriting, at the University of Iowa. Idris, he’s my guy. We’re very close colleagues and comrades. We tour together throughout the year; we do a lot of stuff together.
“And I’m finishing this book I’m loving, by Martín Espada, called The Lover of a Subversive Is Also a Subversive: Essays and Commentaries. Martín, he’s one of the people whose work taught me that the poet is an advocate—that the poet is political and that poetry can be political. I’m really feeling it right now. A book of poems, probably his most well known, Imagine the Angels of Bread, taught me how to write books of poems. Prior to that, whenever I read poetry collections, I felt like I was reading random bits of work written over five years or ten years and then assembled by a poet or an editor into a book. Martín’s book felt more like a novel, like it had a discernible narrative arc. That book allowed me to think about why poems make sense in together, in one collection.
“And then I have a whole calendar of events. What’s great about second Fridays in Chicago is that there’s usually a ton of gallery openings. I teach in the art history department at the School of the Art Institute, and I’ve found that most poets want to be painters, or wish they were painters, or have stolen a ton from painters, and that’s the case for me, as well. So, I’m going to a couple of gallery openings on Friday. One is the 30-year reunion of the Benito Juarez muralists, this group of young artists who painted the mural 30 years ago at the Benito Juarez school, in Pilsen. The mural is really great; it tells the history of the struggle of Mexican people coming here and getting settled in the neighborhood. This show is of new work; at least five of the artists have gone on to become muralists in the Mexican tradition. It’s pretty interesting because I don’t know how often these folks come together. That’s at Carlos & Dominguez Fine Arts Gallery, 1538 West Cullerton Street [773-580-8053; opening is 9/9 from 7 to 11].
“That same night, a former student of mine is showing her work at Woman Made Gallery. Her name is Maria Gaspar, and her show is called All That Also Means to See. She was a student of mine a few years back at UIC, but I take no credit for her genius. I probably learned a lot more from her than she learned from me. I know her for her drawings and paintings, but she also does installation art. She had a show in the MCA’s 12 x 12 gallery sometime back. She’s definitely on her grind—really, really talented.
“Saturday: Is it a cliché to say I’m going to the Renegade Craft Fair? I’m not going to buy a T-shirt with a picture of an owl riding a tricycle and holding a machine gun. That hipster aesthetic, it’s not my aesthetic. But the people who run the [Renegade] store, they’re old friends of mine, so I’m happy to see their success. And I’ll eat at Mana Food Bar. They have possibly the best veggie burgers—maybe on the planet. A couple of those and a beer, and I’m good. That night, I’m going to see King Britt at Smartbar. I just know his albums—he’s a DJ from Philly who has this really great new-soul-over-breakbeat sound—so I’m really excited to see him live.
“Sunday is the culmination of this project that I’ve been working on at the Art Institute with the artist Jitish Kallat. His Public Notice 3 is that piece that goes up the steps of the museum right when you enter. He’s a contemporary Indian artist who’s amazing, and he’s coming into town for the last couple of days that his piece is on view.
“I’ve been the visiting artist for a class at the School of the Art Institute called Museum as Critical Curriculum, and the students have been working with young poets of Louder Than a Bomb and myself and another poet-teacher to respond to Jitish’s work. Public Notice is based on a speech given by Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk, on September 11, 1893, during the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. That speech helped spread pluralism, or the idea that all religions can coexist peacefully.
“Sunday’s program, Ekphrasis: A Response to Jitish Kallat’s Public Notice 3, is the culmination of all of that. There will be Louder Than a Bomb poets responding to Kallat’s piece and performing original poems, and dancers from different B-boy crews. It’s 3 p.m. Sunday at the Chicago Cultural Center. And it’s free.
Photograph: Rebekah Raleigh