Young poets society
Three fresh voices aim to shake up Springfield’s literary scene
Poetry is at once the most marginalized and the most accessible of art forms. Pretty much anyone with both a thought and the desire to express it can jot down a few words and head to the local coffee shop to declaim in front of whoever will listen. But the practice remains relatively rare.
A handful of ambitious young writers has recently begun causing a stir in the Springfield poetry scene. Three of the most distinguished members of this youthful group – Johari Osayi Idusuyi, Ian Winterbauer and Emma R. Wilson – have been making waves with a flurry of exciting readings and publications (and in one case a subtle, impromptu political protest which managed to go viral).
Springfield has long had poetry on its radar as the home of the still-influential Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931), whose former house is a local historic landmark as well as the site of the ongoing “Poets in the Parlor” series of readings by nationally known writers. Local poetry thrives here with the longstanding Springfield Poets and Writers group, active since 1993, which presents an open mic on the third Wednesday of each month at Robbie’s Restaurant on the Old State Capitol Plaza.
Idusuyi, Wilson and Winterbauer have developed a camaraderie based in their shared passion for poetry – they often attend events together and also critique each other’s writing in workshops. Stylistically, however, the three are quite distinct from each other, with Idusuyi’s writing focused largely on social and political concerns while Wilson tends to dissect the intimate corners of her own psyche. Winterbauer’s work, meanwhile, provides laconic and often acerbic observations of life as he experiences it in the Midwest.
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“I started out writing songs but I can’t play the guitar and sing at the same time so I just dropped the guitar,” said Winterbauer, 26, when asked how he got his start in poetry. He began producing homemade chapbooks of his work, which he would leave at Dumb Records. “People would just take ’em,” he recalls. “Then the first time I ever read my stuff at an open mic here in town, everybody already knew who I was from the chapbooks.” Winterbauer contends that the biggest difference between writing poetry now and in the past is technology. “There have always been poets around Springfield, but in the old days, they would have to sit at a desk and write and then go out and try to find an audience. But people now write something and put it on social media and the whole thing will take 10 minutes and there are people reading it.”
Winterbauer describes himself as “something of a barroom poet” having developed a rather confrontational style reading at open mics held in bars. “You have to trick most people into caring about it, or else just berate them until they’re listening,” he says. “I have a pretty good energy, belligerently drunk and shouting. It works pretty well!” Winterbauer, who works as a barrista at the Bean Counter, says he doesn’t see a downside to working in Springfield and enjoys the solidarity with his peers. “In Chicago it’s a bunch of city people, they’ve got their own thing going. But in Springfield we’re part of this bigger thing, it’s an ‘us.’”
It was during a reading in Chicago that Winterbauer found a publisher for his upcoming book, Scream as You Leave, which is set to be released by A Jabber Publications on March 1. “As with all of my success in poetry, somebody walked up and offered it to me,” he drawls. “I met Jon Dambacher, who is a very talented poet and writer, online – as most relationships begin, nowadays. We got to chattin’ and then I went up to Chicago to read with him and another very talented California-based poet named Cliff Weber. I walked away from that performance with a book deal.”
As for his writing process, Winterbauer says it is a matter of watching and waiting. “All my poems start off on scraps of garbage that I have in my pockets,” he said. “Most of the stuff I write is like a snapshot of wherever I am. For example, this kid across the street had a birthday party and afterward they dumped everything in the trash. It was really weird just seeing the birthday balloons floating out of the dumpster. Boom: poem! Wrote it on the back of a cigarette carton.”
occasional poetry of a sudden death
By Ian Winterbauer
one poet breaks.
one poet breaks of degree.
Degree less poignant
made by scars
when tears blare broken poet design.
Designed by wanted flightless search
to dream of broken point.
Breathe the broken poet breaking.
Bleed the broken
poet breaking. Dream the broken
poet waiting in
disguise to harm or defeat
branching out to rewind neurotic poet
breaking a little more divine.
Feeling a little more about inside.
To claim a good idea but the best
of which is why
design a broken
From the book Scream as You Leave, forthcoming from A Jabber Publications, Sacramento, California, reprinted by permission
Emma Wilson, 26, has become an increasingly familiar face on the Springfield creative scene over the past year, between her presence both in front of and behind the camera on popular local web series The Studio Show and her increasing visibility at poetry readings. She says she enjoys being creative in Springfield where the independent, DIY vibe is inclusive. “It’s about breaking down that bullshit wall that so often is around writers,” she says. “That’s how the scene is most important to me. If you look at the byline in a typical poetry journal, they are all like, ‘so and so has an MFA from blah blah blah’ and I’m conflicted about it,” she said. “On one hand I’d love to have an MFA myself, but on the other hand I think it creates this barrier that is super-intimidating and as a result a lot of people don’t feel being a poet is an accessible goal.”
Wilson began writing “bedroom poetry” in her journal while in high school and later attended Millikin University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. “That’s where my love for poetry kind of exploded,” she said. In 2012, Bronze Man Books published an elaborate chapbook of her poetry entitled A Map to the Multiverse, which was hand-stitched and included illustrations by former Pharmacy Art Space and Gallery member artist Jess Black.
It took some time after graduating from school and moving to Springfield before she started pursuing poetry in a more serious way – and she largely credits her connection with Idusuyi and Winterbauer for that. “I can’t overemphasize the importance of having peers who are hustling at a similar velocity. I haven’t known Ian all that long, I’ve known Johari a little longer, but I really love these people because hanging out with them makes me want to write more,” she said. “We all complement each other and can give really good feedback to each other because we’re coming at poetry from three different places.”
Wilson, who works as a principal consultant in information technology at the Illinois State Board of Education, is a strong believer in the power of the written and spoken word. “It can be so revolutionary and real and honest. I’d say it is just as dynamic if not more so than a rock concert.” She recalls a formative early experience reading at a straitlaced Decatur event. “I did a poem about losing my virginity and nobody clapped and there was this kid in the back who said audibly ‘what is happening?’ That was probably my most bizarre, uncomfortable moment as a poet. Now I own it, though. I’ll just say at the top of the reading, ‘I’m going to read a lot of angry sex poems.’”
I Got You Babe
By Emma R. Wilson
My dad once told me Today it will be hard out there. Go out anyway. I sat down to write about ritual and my computer crashed. They estimate Phil Connors was stuck in the Groundhog loop for 30 years. This is because it is very hard to become an ice sculptor. I own these jeans that never fit right but they cost $80 so I always wear them. I do my best writing in emails. When I was a teenager I loved an older man and my therapist says he loved power. I would eat only fruit for days, carry around dirty strawberries in a Ziploc bag. One time he told me You don’t buy a gun because it’s pretty. I’ve tried all my life to be popular and skinny. How does a woman trust herself? All this hair growing thick and fast. Love me, blonde world. Things will crack you up – No warning. Apparently, Aspirin is a wonder drug. A guy in a Star Wars shirt ran massacre in an airport with everyone quietly nodding. I want to walk for miles but it’s the ice making me distrustful. I’m worried about money. I had my friend meet me in an unheated building and take my picture. All of this I’m writing here is real. I’m making a short film. It is about being nineteen. Do you do nice things because you’re nice or because you think someone is watching? Hey – they demolished another building downtown. No warning. Apparently Aspirin will make your guts bleed. The tail light in my car is busted. We always think things are winking when really they’re broken. This summer I fell out of love. Fell out of a very large web, a full moon, a tire swing. Found myself in the dictionary somewhere between pulverize and queen.
Johari Osayi Idusuyi
Johari Osayi Idusuyi, 24, hosts a monthly poetry night at Wm. Van’s Coffee House and, like her comrades, puts a high value on the Springfield creative scene. “I think we’re bringing together a more intimate space where people are listening to poetry and are there for it 100 percent,” she says. “We’re also growing in the sense of collaborating with each other without using any type of outside business as we learn and expand and become better at our craft.”
Idusuyi, who attends UIS and works at Caribou Coffee, laments the limited ways most people seem to view poetry’s potential. “People are exposed to the classics of poetry in high school but there’s no expansion of that – teachers don’t always do a great job of showing the balance of what poetry can do.” She grew up in central Illinois and started writing in eighth grade. “It was something I did as a catharsis. I was always inspired by a lot of spoken word stuff and I always had favorites and I loved poetry but I didn’t make it a discipline until last year,” she said. “One of the most intimate things you can do is read poetry to an audience. It’s an outpouring of your soul and the fact that writers choose to do it with us at Wm. Van’s is one of my favorite things.”
Idusuyi was briefly thrust into the national spotlight last year, when footage of her attending the November 2015 Donald Trump rally held at the Prairie Capital Convention Center – where she can be seen pointedly reading a book behind the future president’s shoulder as he speaks – went viral, landing her an interview spot on “The Rachel Maddow Show” among other appearances. “I was genuinely interested to hear what [Trump] had to say in terms of policy and ideology,” she said during a recent interview on Illinois Edition radio. “Thirty minutes into his speech there was nothing of substance being said, so I started reading.” The book happened to be Citizen by Claudia Rankine, a collection of poems addressing racism in America, which made the gesture doubly pointed for those in the know. “I was confronted by a couple seated behind me who told me I should leave if I didn’t want to be there. I told them I had wanted to be there, I had good intentions when I first came.”
Since that time, Idusuyi has increased her efforts to be heard and to facilitate the poetry scene in town, where she finds the DIY scene both inspiring and occasionally exhausting. “It really challenges and pushes us to grow as writers but it’s still pretty hard,” she sighs. “Sometimes I just want a break, I want something to already exist – there are times when I don’t want to plan everything.” Winterbauer, Wilson and Idusuyi have discussed publishing an anthology zine of their writing, which is an exciting prospect but also promises to create even more work. “We have to do it because this is who we are,” she said.
“I think an artist’s job is to make social commentary on our culture,” Idusuyi continued. “We can elevate it or criticize it and use our talent to engage in change and make people react, force people to feel. Especially in this technological age with people trying to maintain a fake sense of self, an artist can challenge that. We want people to feel the range of emotion.”
By Johari Osayi Idusuyi
I’m tired of writing poems about Black Death.
They are always the same poem
With different names.
The repeat of the same scene.
Same swelling sore.
Their names resemble sharp, splinters inching slowly into my back
They have now become a gaping, gushing wound
Ian Winterbauer’s work can be found online at www.instagram.com/eno_bandito/
Johari Osayi Idusuyi’s work can be found online at www.instagram.com/scatteredperfectionist/