Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rockford Poetry Is Alive Again

Suddenly the poetry scene in Rockford is alive again. With the hosting of the prestigious Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam, and the Wednesday night event planned at CNVR to discuss poetry and hold an open mic reading, the long dormant poetry scene seems to be awaking from hibernation.

Will it last? There have been short-lived attempts to create a poetry revival before, including the Bookworm Cafe, The Poetic Justice League, and a successful, well-attended series of reading at Cafe Esperanto in the early 1990's, but for some reason no one was able to maintain the energy level of the first couple of events.

Rockford poetry was front and center on NPR this winter when Jesus Correa's first book of poetry, Iced Cream, was featured on NPR's Winter Book Series. 

Iced Cream, by Jesus Abraham Correa VII, Zombie Logic Press 2014
One of the stalwarts of the Rockford poetry scene is Zombie Logic Press, in business since 1997. Recently they have begun publishing books exclusively by Rockford writers, and plan to publish books by Dennis Gulling and David Pedersen in the coming year. 

Other reasons for optimism in the Rockford poetry scene are young poets like Emily Sipiora, and the ferocious voice of Xen Kingsley, but ultimately it is always the audience that is the essential ingredient in creating a maintaining a vital literary scene. So, how can the literary community best foster interest in those who are not so inclined to attend literary events or buy the books local authors write? These are the eternal questions that plague anyone trying to sell people what they don't seem to want. I wish I could trust in the cliche answer that education is the key to creating new readers, but how can that be done when the teachers themselves are reading at a remedial level?

Is all lost for the poetry scene? Maybe not. In a forsaken literary outpost like Rockford there will always be those who make a valiant attempt to raise up the standard of literacy for others to see, but that struggle will almost always seem like a losing battle, and we'll lose most of our promising writers, like David Ensminger, to other places, but those who stay behind have always been a brave and noble bunch, even if their efforts have largely been in vain. I recommend Wednesday night at CNVR for those who'd like to get the ball rolling again, and Zombie Logic Press for those who want to see how it is already done.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Outsider Poetry Depot To Open In Rockford

The Outsider Poetry Depot opened today in Rockford, Illinois to an assembled crowd on hand that had camped out overnight waiting for doorbuster deals on haikus, narrative, and confessional poems by Outsider Poet Thomas L. Vaultonburg.

"The response from the community has been very heartening," stated Vaultonburg, who has been writing poetry since he was sixteen, and had the idea to open a storefront to sell individual poems in a dream. "At first I thought maybe another Portillo's location had opened up, or maybe I had forgotten it was Black Friday, so I was shocked when I learned they were here for poetry." 

Chad Onderdonk was first in line. He had camped out overnight specifically for one poem he had read in Zombie Logic Review. "I knew there was a going to be a lot of competition for this poem, so I got here early," Onderdonk said. 

Vaultonburg, a notoriously late riser, did not realize the crowd had gathered, and did not open the doors of The Outsider Poetry Depot until three in the afternoon, but it didn't matter, as the crown had begun to entertain themselves, playing hacky sack and selling homemade tuna fish sandwiches. True to his word, Chad Onderdonk was right there when the door opened and bought this poem for $1.99:


You were our first lesson
In rage and greed,
Possibly love.
Our smiling guardian
Put the stick
In our small hands,
Blindfolded us,
And whispered
Unspeakable treasures
Awaited us when we
Destroyed you.
Spun around and
Drunken with images
Of unimaginable trinkets
We became whirling dervishes
Of lust and anger,
Whacking and thumping away
At your broken smile
Way past nap time,
Until frustrated with
Our lack of killer instinct,
Our teacher sawed you
In half, spilling
Far less enticing bounty
Than we had dreamed of.
Some rushed forward and
Grabbed and devoured,
Others stood back and 
Cried over the carnage.
Either way we all learned
Who we would become that day.
-Thomas L. Vaultonburg

After Onderdonk made his purchase, the line moved in an orderly and steady fashion as Vaultonburg served poems of all lengths and subject matter to a grateful and informed audience willing to show their gratitude by giving him United States currency, or in one case a corned beef sandwich. Asked if The Outsider Poetry Depot would become an ongoing part of the burgeoning Downtown community Vaultonburg just sort of yawned and said he thought he might be out of poetry and have to think of 
something else to do.  

Rockford CSI

An ant crawled 
Into the bottle of Grolsch 
I left on the counter last night 
And drowned like an American 
Tourist in a Dutch brothel. 
I notified the Coroner’s Office 
And they have deemed it 
Death by misadventure 
Though no one is sure 
Who to notify. 

The Outsider Poetry Depot

Buy this Rockford poem for only .99. Act now, supplies dwindling. Or come on down to the Outsider Poetry Depot for all your poetry needs today.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Is Volunteerism In Rockford Hurting Jobs?

In October 2010 Notre Dame student Declan Sullivan fell to his death when a strong wind caused the scaffolding he was filming a Notre Dame football practice from to fall to the ground. As with the rape cover-up and eventual suicide of student Lizzy Seeberg, Notre Dame immediately tried to go into cover-up mode, but the outrage at such a stupid and thoughtless act as allowing a student to fall to his death in a storm that was predicted by the National Weather Service ensured that Notre Dame wouldn't just be able to sweep it under the rug this time. 

After an investigation IOSHA fined Notre Dame $77,500 in March, 2011 for five violations, including not maintaining safe working conditions, and failing to properly train Sullivan in operating the lift. A multi-million dollar civil suit would certainly have been easily winnable by Sullivan's family, who fortunately for the university declined to seek legal action. I was reminded of this senseless tragedy this afternoon when I returned to my Downtown apartment and saw this...

Those are what appear to be teenagers approximately twenty feet in the air doing maintenance work on a lampost in a municipal parking lot in Rockford. Initially I thought that's sorta nice. I've seen these same people Downtown doing landscaping work, picking up litter, and setting up holiday decorations. But immediately after that I was reminded of the death of Declan Sullivan and the aftermath. If these weren't trained city employees who were being paid to do a job they had some expertise in, what exactly was going on here? If indeed these were volunteers, as I suspect, I have two distinctly reasonable questions to ask: 1) In light of the aforementioned tragedy at Notre Dame, who in their right mind would allow volunteers, let alone minors, to mount a scaffolding on municipal property and engage in an activity that seems both dangerous and meant for paid workers, not volunteers. 

2) Given the astronomical unemployment rate in Rockford, why aren't people being paid a living wage to do this work?

In principle an effort like Sharefest  is a great thing, and of course community and business leaders, and the media love it, but the two previously mentioned objections seem valid to me. These are jobs these volunteers are doing, and in a city with an unemployment rate much higher than the national average, shouldn't we be paying someone to do them? The beautifying and maintenance are nice, and from my window I can see they are working, but couldn't this have been done by people getting a paycheck? The second, and much more concerning issue is the safety issue. The pictures document what I saw, and there's no justification for allowing volunteers of any age to mount a scaffolding and do this kind of work. 

Volunteers of Sharefest sign a legal waiver releasing both the city and Heartland CC from any legal responsibility should they be hurt while participating in Sharefest activities, but OSHA regulations on working on scaffoldings are spelled out pretty clearly, and I'm sure there are half a million lawyers out there who would shred those waivers in court should anyone be hurt in these volunteer actions.

These are just pictures. I'm not familiar enough with OSHA regulations to even know if they apply to volunteers, or if any of those regulations were broken in this case. I just think to the naked eye it looked like an asinine risk to put what looks like untrained teenagers into a position like this. I will repeat I generally support volunteer efforts to beautify the city, but at the same time I wonder why volunteers appear to be doing more than just planting flowers or picking up litter here. This looks like work better suited to professionals, dare I say even union laborers. 

Maybe we could get volunteers to run the city, the Chamber of Commerce, and half the businesses around here. 

I'm actually thankful to see everyone packed up and no one was hurt and they did leave the parking lot looking nicer than they found it. My one and only question here is was it worth the perceived risk? 

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Quality of Mercy

A tornado recently tore through Northern Illinois, devastating the tiny town of Fairdale, Illinois, and killing two of the 150 citizens. Here in Rockford, where most of us feel being in a valley gives us total immunity from tornados, the emergency siren sounded three times, sending most of us to the basement. It wasn't until later in the evening that it was confirmed a tornado had touched down in several locations. By night's end we knew the damage was severe. At one point a dozen people were trapped in the basement of a tavern that had been wiped out.

In typical fashion the recovery effort began right away. Everyone seemed to want to help rebuild the tiny town of Fairdale. Donations flooded in. To the point where recovery organizers told people donations of almost everything but money was no longer necessary. And the people came to rebuild Fairdale. 

It is a heartwarming confirmation of the goodness of people and their willingness to help each other out in times of crisis.

So why am I playing the abrupt record needle scratching sound effect that would indicate that I'm not completely on board with the goodness and decency bandwagon?

I'll tell you why.

A WIFR story recently reported that there are 43 homeless veterans in the city of Rockford. There are approximately 20,000 children in the area going hungry. A lot of the time Rockford seems like it was hit by a tornado. Homeless people freezing to death in parking garages, legions of the disabled and mentally ill wandering streets after being turned out of shelters and treatment facilities, a heroin epidemic claiming lives at an alarming rate, and the third highest rate of violence in America. 

Makes one wonder why local residents were so willing to help victims in a small town most of them will never even drive through, but most have never volunteered or donated to a cause here in Rockford. 

Truckloads of supplies were filled to help the people of Fairdale. But when similar appeals are made by food pantries and social service agencies here in Rockford donations are hard to come by. 


Instead of feeling the heartwarming confirmation of human goodness and decency the outpouring of generosity for the people of Fairdale has elicited in others, I'm left with a dose of the opposite reaction: if this type of effort can be mustered to help certain people in their time of need, why can't the helping hand be extended to so many others that need it desperately?

"The quality of mercy is not strained." I think I read that somewhere. One can't cajole others into caring about that which they are not inclined to care about, so one can only assume the refusal to show mercy for the less fortunate in  Rockford  speaks volumes about what certain people do and do not care about. After Fairdale has been restored to order, and all the volunteers go home feeling good about their good deeds, 43 veterans will still be homeless in Rockford every night, 20,000 children will go hungry, and no volunteers or truckloads of donations will arrive to change that.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Scott Lively Charged With Crimes Against Humanity. What Is the Rockford Institute?

Scott Lively is the man who is the architect of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act, better known as the "Kill the Gays" bill. In America Lively is not very well known, but in other parts of the world that have suffered from his bigotry and hatred, he is remembered all too well. So much so, a 2012 lawsuit accusing him of crimes against humanity was filed in Massachusetts. I don't know anyone who has ever been charged with crimes against humanity. 

Lively also goes to Russia quite frequently. His last trip was prompted by a meeting of a planning committee for the World Congress of Families summit which will be held in Moscow next year. The organization, based in Rockford, Ill., convenes meetings of social conservatives from the U.S. and abroad to exchange ideas on topics such as combating LGBT rights and reproductive rights. One of their leaders also recently appeared in Serbia to celebrate the country’s ban on a planned LGBT pride march.

Rewind that. What? The World Congress of Families, based in Rockford, Illinois? Are you telling me a monster who was just charged with crimes against humanity, a man who travels the world trying to convince foreign leaders that gays should be exterminated, is associated with a think tank based right here in Rockford, Illinois?

That seems like a big story. I wonder what the local media had to say about it...

Not a damn thing. Several attempts by The Rockford Blog to encourage local media outlets, both print and media, were ignored, and the story was not covered at all.

The World Congress of Families sits next door to The Rockford Institute on N. Main Street. The Rockford Institute, a think tank that was once evicted from a New York City office building for anti-semitism, and which the Southern Poverty Law Center has added to both their watch list of most rabidly anti-gay and racist organizations.

You mean to tell me the same World Congress of Families that sits non-descriptly on Main Street in Rockford, Illinois, is pumping out hate-filled tracts, and sending emissaries all over the world in the name of exterminating gays? 

Yes, that's exactly what they do in that building. 

And now one of their emissaries has been charged with crimes against humanity. But that's not even enough to warrant a news story in Rockford. 

There are many separate attempts afoot to improve Rockford, attract young, talented professionals to live here, and to bring a better quality of life to those who have been here all along. In my opinion there's no way that can happen when we have cancerous nests of hate and ignorance like The World Congress of Families and The Rockford Institute operating right in the heart of our city.

You might think the Rockford Institute and The World Congress of Families, is shunned in the community. Persona non grata. And you'd be wrong. These are respected members of the community, participating fully and freely without any form of censor or ridicule. 

That can't be the case in a city with the history of racism Rockford has. If we ever want to shed the terrible reputation that has led the national media to brand us as one of America's fattest, dumbest, most violent, miserable cities, we can't just keep sweeping these vestiges of a long-gone America under the rug.

The Rockford Blog should not be the only local media outlet that wrote about this story. Shame on you.

Update: Technically, the Rockford Institute and The World Congress of Families are different entities, both founded by John Howard and Allan Carlson 

The Rockford Institute publishes a blog named Chronicles. I'll let them speak for themselves. Thugs and Tarbabies from Chronicles.

From Ms. Magazine, of all places:

The WCF originally hailed from Rockford, Ill., where The Rockford Institute — which begat the WCF’s main organizer, The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society — was founded in 1976 by John A. Howard to represent “the authentic voice of the American Heartland.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified it as “paleo-conservative,” exposing its links to hate groups like the League of the South and the Council of Conservative Citizens.
By 1995, the Institute, under the leadership of its then-president, Allan Carlson, began planning the World Congress of Families.
Its guiding idea was to try and reshape the international political landscape around issues of family and sexuality by forming an international coalition of right-wing secular and religious organizations. Two years later, there was enough support and funding for a first congress, in Prague.

That same year, Carlson broke with The Rockford Institute to form The Howard Center (named for Rockford’s founder), which became the sponsor and host of all subsequent congresses. The Howard Center’s stated mission is to provide research demonstrating that the natural family and religion are the bedrock of modern society. -Gillian Kane

Rockford Institute publishes hate column by Taki Theodoracopulos- Adam Holland

April 3, 2017 update: According to a Huffington Post story of April 2, 2017, gay men between the ages of 16-50 have begun being rounded up in Chechnya, and at least three have been killed. This is all done under the umbrella regulations of the anti-gay law worked on by guess who?