Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rockford Poetry Slams

Rockford poetry slams. Everyone knows that. The very same economic and cultural conditions that lead some to become violent, hopeless, or pessimistic lead others to become defiantly optimistic that the power of words can be used to educate, to motivate, and to lift the spirits of those demoralized by corruption and decay. Kudos to all Rockford poets. No place needs poetry more than Rockford. 

David Pedersen is a perfect example. In his quintessentially Midwestern book Love Is Meat, Pedersen writes about how his parents at a meat processing plant in the titular poem. It was one of my great honors as an editor and supporter of Rockford area writers to have edited this book, which mostly just entailed writing him emails saying "good job." But I realized walking the streets in Downtown last week that my grandparents had almost exactly the same story. My grandmother worked for the late part of her life carving meat for a small meat processing company in Lena, Illinois. And my grandfather for many years worked skinning the pelts of animals at a furrier in Forreston. For them their love of their family was quite literally directly related to meat. I remember my grandmother's mangled hands as I read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle for the first time this year. I wrote this poem about them.

Perfect Citizenship Award 

my grandparents 
never dared 
interfere with 
the lifelong civics 
lesson that 
from classrooms, 
radios, factories, 
encyclopedia salesmen, 
faucets and 
Hee Haw 
so when they 
had the decency 
to die weeks 
before retirement 
the government 
sent a 
Perfect Citizenship Award 
and a check 
not big enough 
to box up the remains.
-Thomas L. Vaultonburg

For six years I have lived at the geographic heart of Rockford, Illinois, in a tall building with a bird's-eye view of the street below. I have seen my neighborhood, still America's 3rd most dangerous, start to turn around and the beginning stages of gentrification take place. The East Siders who wouldn't have dared come here only five years ago now attend a wide array of music, arts, and cultural events Downtown. The bands, artists, and restaurants that kept those events coming are no small part of the upturn. Zombie Logic Press is where I edited this Review, published books by Jesus Correa and C.J. Campbell, and started my new venture, Outsider Poetry.

I hope to stay here to see this renaissance play out. I'd like to think I'll be part of it, and that I'll be able to use Zombie Logic Press to publish books by the best writers in Rockford. I like the place where I live. I am proud of its art community.

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