Poetry’s a hard nut to crack. I grew up with a father who could recite dozens of poems by heart in Russian. There are couplets lodged in my head ever since. They’re in deep and will autoplay without prompting at sometimes inappropriate times. I’m not complaining. If you’re going to have an earworm, it may as well be profound and be in rhyming meter.

I’ve never written a poem that I can recall. I wouldn’t know how to start. It’s a form of expression that probably has to choose you rather than the other way around. Since I’ve been writing books, a few times my bio when I’ve been invited to read has listed me as a poet. I always make sure to correct the organizers’ error.

Poems in English, especially from 20th century on, seem a completely different animal than the Russian ones I grew up on. The two languages are so very different. English is the tongue of commerce. It’s suited perfectly for selling. Whereas hearing ad copy in Russian makes me laugh or cringe, sometimes both at once.

Still, I’ve been trying to figure it out. Puzzling at the spare clauses scattered minimally across pages. It’s an education in which I always feel like a beginner. The rules shift as quickly as I get a handle on them.

I met the poet Mark Turcotte fifteen years ago through someone I’ve had to cut out of my life. It’s that way so often—good things coming out of bad. We don’t see one another so much but seem to have an unspoken understanding. I don’t feel that way around people often. Maybe a weary detente with a world that doesn’t feel so welcoming. He probably sees it differently.

Mark is one of the best out-loud readers of their own work I’ve ever heard. There’s a gravitational command to his performance. When it’s happening it’s like the only possible voice in the room. There’s just no question or doubt. The polar opposite of the average literary reading, which is a necessary evil suffered through to sell books.

I’ve been bugging Mark a long time to tape a talk and finally wore him down a couple weeks ago. He hasn’t put out a book in a long time. We get into that in the conversation I recorded in his beautiful apartment, steps from the lake in Rogers Park. This is his last one. Pick up a copy.

Here’s a patron of the arts, captured at my Rainbo Club opening by John McNaughton. The show’s been extended a week. It’s up through August 5th. (a checklist for your reference)

I wrote about the Jean Eustache retrospective at the Siskel.