Chicago still has a bit of the crusty charm I remember from childhood

Chicago still has a bit of the crusty charm I remember from childhood

Earlier this month I got to go back to Chicago with one of my sisters. We grew up there and I lived there in my twenties and thirties. Seeing old friends and revisiting remembered places certainly kicks up a fine dust of memories. I was struck by the different qualities of our respective memories. A lot of my memories have been polished down to images and some associated emotions. My sister, meanwhile, has all that too, but she has a much richer memory of details and information, what happened where and when.

By comparison, I seem to have dumped vast quantities of things: old phone numbers, addresses, dates. And perhaps this makes some sense. In recent years I’ve leaned hard on memory as a practical strategy for vision loss. Things remembered don’t have to be looked up or read off a page.

So I buffed up my memory for memorizing terminology for grad school and for numeric codes I need to put on diagnostic assessments and treatment plans for my therapy internship. I leaned on it to memorize the 246 contractions or abbreviations used in Grade 2 Braille. I used it up committing poems to heart.

And, perhaps that meant that my mind dumped a lot of information about what happened where and when in my many years in Chicago many years ago. Or perhaps dump is not the right word. more like those old memories were crumpled, crushed and pushed aside.. They’re still in there somewhere, but something like an old ball of tinfoil shunted under a kitchen cabinet by the deft paw of a cat long gone. Even if you noticed it amid the hard-to-reach dust bunnies, it would be hard to unfold and make sense of its original form.

The late lamented feline champion of tin-foil-ball soccer.

The late lamented feline champion of tin-foil-ball soccer.

For the past several weeks I’ve had the pleaseure of watching nine talented people take the ideas of memory and performance and make then their own. What do these folks have in common? They were all willing to take a chance and participate in Memory Matters, the workshop/experiment Zaraawar Mistry of Dreamland Arts and I schemed up to to explore ways of sharing creative work we care about enough to know it by heart, to carry it around in our bodies.

Workshop particpants will be sharing their work on Monday October 21 at Dreamland. It’s free, but register if you want to be sure of having a seat and experiencing the energy and range of their performances.

For more information check out the Dreamland Arts evnt listing.

Thanks to the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library for helping to make this event possible.

Mark your calendar… poets Ed Bok Lee and Sharon Chmielarz are going to give their take on the intersections of poetry amd memory. Through their poetry and dialog, they’ll look at what it means to know something by heart. Hear poems presented from the heart and join in a conversation about poetry and the things we value enough to remember.


Date: Monday, September 16, 2013, 7 pm
Performed by: Ed Bok Lee and Sharon Chmielarz
Host/Curator: Naomi Cohn
Location: Hamline Midway Library, 1558 W. Minnehaha Ave., St. Paul.

Artist bios:

Ed Bok Lee is the author of Whorled, winner of a 2012 American Book Award, and a Minnesota Book Award for Poetry, and Real Karaoke People, winner of a 2006 PEN/Open Book Award.

Sharon Chmielarz’s eighth book of poetry is Love from the Yellowstone Trail. Her work has been a finalist in the National Poetry Series, and in ‘99, ‘01, ‘02, ’05, ’07, ’10 and ‘11 nominated for a Pushcart Prize. It’s been featured on American Life in Poetry (‘07) and individual poems translated into French and Polish. She’s had poems published in magazines like The Notre Dame Review, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, The Hudson Review, The North American Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Commonweal, Salmagundi, Margie, The Seneca Review, Louisiana Literature, Ontario Review, CutBank. She’s the recipient of the 2012 Jane Kenyon Award from Water~Stone Review

Naomi Cohn’s poetry has been recognized by grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, VSA Minnesota, and numerous residencies. Her writing has appeared in Water~Stone, Fourth River, and Star Tribune, among other places. Red Dragonfly Press is publishing her chapbook, Nectar and Eternity, in 2013. She developed Known by Heart as part of a larger project on memory and forgetting.


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