Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Rock River Literary Series

There's a lot of talk by Chamber of Commerce types and community cheerleaders about accentuating the positive things that happen in Rockford, instead of emphasizing the steady stream of awful national news stories and polls showing how violent, fat, dumb, and miserable the city is, and that's why I'm constantly mystified that while so many good things are going on in the arts, music, small business, and food industry. that those civic cheerleaders seem to have no desire to talk about those people actually doing what they say we need more of. If you're not in their small circle of people, places, and things THEY find significant, you might as well be one of the homeless people they so assiduously avoid while Downtown partying it up. 

BUT those good things do exist right here in Rockford, even if the media, the Chamber of Commerce, and the myriad small business groups and associations don't have any desire to talk about it. One of those things is the Rock River Literary Series. The creation of publisher Thomas L. Vaultonburg of Zombie Logic Press, located in the virtual geographic center of the city, the series is an effort to find, publish, and promote the most accomplished writers in the Rockford area, and expose them to a local and national audience. The third book in the series, The Blood Dark Sea, was published in May. It is available at Phoenix Traders and at the Zombie Logic Press  website.

Dennis Gulling is a nationally published poet with a thirty year career of being recognized as one of the nation's top Outlaw Poets. He edited the literary review crawlspace from 1990-1999, and has appeared in dozens of magazines and periodicals, but in Rockford he is virtually anonymous, and likes it that way. Although he prefers to take a low key approach to his work, I feel he deserves a great deal of accolades for writing what I consider one of the best poetry books that will be released this year in America, bar none. As the publisher of this book I bear the brunt of the responsibility for promoting it, but this is the third time I have encountered substantial media apathy when trying to promote a book locally that is every bit on par with the books being released at a national level. Shaming the devil is one approach that has born some success, but I really don't want to have to do that eternally. It's a huge effort for me. 

The civic minded leaders of Rockford are free not to promote whatever they want, but when they do I wish they'd also quit bitching about nothing good happening in Rockford, or people consistently pointing out the problems that are happening. Do they expect us all to just be quiet while the ship is going down unless we just so happen to be supporting the handful of venues, businesses, and events they consider worthwhile? I actually think that's exactly what they expect, but it ain't happenin'.

Iced Cream by Jesus Abraham Correa VII was the first book in the Rock River Literary Series. Jesus is a magnificent, innovative, and multi-talented artist who many remember as running for mayor as a Green Party candidate in 2009. He is also a stand-up comic, visual artist, parade leader, spoken word artist, and the front man of various bands, including King of the Demons. I am extremely proud of this book, which contains poems, short stories, and eight works of art by a local artist who has shown nationally. I am also proud to say the Rockford arts community gave this book a great reception, and I consider it a huge success. It went out to five continents, but here in Rockford there wasn't much talk about it outside of the arts community that knew what was what. 

The Zen of Beard Trimming by C.J. Campbell is the 2nd book in the Rock River Literary Series. It is the memoir of a young activist with cerebral palsy trying to find his place in the evangelical Christian community, and the misadventures he gets involved in along the way. It is at times a funny and depressing book written from the point of view of a writer who witnesses the best and worst of humanity in his travels. The cover artwork was done by my creative partner Jenny Mathews of Rockford Illustrating. I am proud of this book because this is one of the people in Rockford working hard to do good things, and although he encounters resistance and apathy, soldiers on. 

All three of these books are available at our local retail partner, Phoenix Traders. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Underrated Things From Rockford

Dennis Gulling has been a very respected poet nationally for a very long time. Even just doing a cursory search about him on Google I found entries in places as important as the Los Angeles Times. If you were to talk to someone in the know about poetry in any city in America they would probably know the name Dennis Gulling as one of the first generation Outlaw Poets. But here in Rockford he is relatively unknown. Why?

More on that later.

Xen Kingsley just won his first RAMI Award. He's a talented spoken word artist, writer, and musician. But that's only part of what he does. Right here in Rockford he lays down some mighty truths about life, wisdom, and race. Check out the line of Tshirts he helps create.

Travis Legge is a filmmaker, role playing game developer, and he does about fifty other things I can't even keep track of he is so prolific. He shot his first feature film, Raymond Did It, in the Rockford area. The sad thing is that he left the state to make his next film. The city, and it's decision makers and movers and shakers really need to do a better job keeping people like Travis Legge doing what they do right here in the Screw City, because we're all better for it.

Wayland Anderson. I was very impressed by a spoken word piece Wayland Anderson did at the Earth Day Poetry reading Richard Vargas organized at J.R. Kortman Gallery. He has a real passion and dedication to teaching ballet, and his studio is exactly what is needed in a neighborhood like Midtown trying to emerge from decades of neglect. The repeated refrain from his poem "ballet is in town" resonates at The Wayland Anderson Project  on 4th Avenue. My five year old loves to take dance class from this motivated and skilled teacher who displays an enthusiasm that his students can't help but learn from. 

Micky Rosenquist is another example of a dedicated and passionate teacher whose love of his art, music, rubs off on his students. His Rock and Roll Institute allows aspiring rockers to "Start a band on Monday…Play a show on Friday." An aspect of the Rock and Roll Institute I really admire is all the musicians from local bands that dedicate their time to teaching these kids how to play a rock and roll concert, which they do the same week, and as someone who has been in attendance, they do rock. 

Michael Whyte is a singer/songwriter/guitar player who is probably most notably known for his band The Blind Robins. He has co-written songs with bands like E-I-E-I-O and one of his songs is on the soundtrack of the movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Before there was this new resurgence in Americana/roots/alternative country there was Michael Whyte, right here in Rockford.

Dennis Gulling has been here in Rockford all along, for over thirty years publishing his poetry on a national level, but remaining almost completely unknown locally. This week his first full-length book of poetry, The Blood Dark Sea, is available from local publisher Zombie Logic Press. You can order a copy here

I would like to expand this blog to include many more artists, musicians, teachers, restaurant owners etc that just aren't getting the kind of credit they deserve here in Rockford. Please do not consider this list anything but a first pass, to be added to, and updated. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Hot N Heavy Hot Sauces Burning Up the Shelves In Rockford

If you're out and about for Spring Art Scene tomorrow you can unlock the elusive triple buy local achievement by buying some Hot N Heavy Hot Sauces at Olive Oil Experience or Culture Shock when you're also browsing the racks at Record Store Day. Wow, if you bought a Cheap Trick record it might actually count as a quadruple buy it now experience. 

Hot N Heavy comes in three varieties.

Our premium Cajun Cayenne sauce comes straight from the swamp to bring fresh flavor and hollerin’ heat to whatever you’ve got a mind to eat! We mix together garlic, onion and vinegar and then spike it with Cayenne and Habanero Chile to bite your tail! Nice complex flavor goes good with just about anything, but it’s great on eggs and fried food…especially gator! Headbangers, hillbillies and everyone in between needs some Bayou in a Bottle!

This angel will kick you right in the pants and SLAY you with a fiery blast that’s heavy on the garlic. A green elixir made with the purest ingredients…garlic, vinegar, salt, lime and a combo of Serrano and Habanero Chile. That’s it! A little dash of this and it will be RAINING GARLIC…from a lacerated sky! BANG ON!

Only the bravest souls will dare to sample this infernal brew that comes straight from the depths of a black metal hell! There’s also a nice smoky long lasting finish to this brimstone brew so you get maximum flavor as well as maximum heat. A pure mixture of Naga Jolokia Chile with salt and vinegar is all it takes to burn this sucker to the ground. HAIL BEEZLEBUB and pass the hot sauce!

I say triple buy local bonus because these awesome labels were designed by Jenny Mathews of Rockford Illustrating. Making this a rare opportunity to support three different local entrepeneurs at the same time, and get some atomic hot sauce in the bargain. Get them now at both Olive Oil Experience locations and Culture Shock.