Bloomington/Normal a Hidden Camelot (Part 5)
If you walk from your house on Vale Street which is located in the Founder's Corner in Bloomington and then proceed towards Morrissey, you will cross bungalows and some two stories brick houses, proceed over to the golf course and keep walking, you will eventually reach the Thai House. If it happens to be on a Wednesday on the week of Sharon's birthday, you will find that the Thai House is closed for a full week to celebrate Sharon's birth.
I am not sure who Sharon is but she seems to be an important icon to our neighborhood worthy to have a place of business and where I was to have lunch with Kathleen Kirk close. If you sit on one the two wood benches by the entrance of the Thai House to wait for your lunch companion to arrive, you will be greeted by this street art of a waitress dressed as a french maid holding up a hamburger on a silver platter. It is one of very few street arts I have seen in Bloomington. I am not sure how long our french maid waitress has been holding up the platter but if any indication of the building's status, I would say a good 30 years. If anyone knows the answer, please leave it in the comments.
Once Kathleen Kirk arrived we drove over to Veteran's where the one and only TGIF in Bloomington is located. We each ordered the raspberry tea and a salad and talked about both of our publications.
Kathleen is the poetry editor at Escape Into Life and I as you know run this place. We run the only independent publications in town which center around poetry and art. I asked her about the founder and creator of Escape Into Life whose death has always seemed to be a mystery to me. His name was Chris Al-Aswad. He was an artist and a poet. He was a huge fan of David Foster Wallace and hoped to one day achieve just a little of the limelight which flashed very quickly through BloNo. His heritage was Iraqi and he was an artist and a poet. He built a strong online community which was thriving. He was friends with Kathleen and offered her the position of poetry editor. Kathleen says she was a little amiss about it because she did not know that much about computer programing but she did know how to read submissions via email so she set out as his poetry editor. Unfortunately Chris passed away shortly before Kathleen was to post her first poetry selection online. She has since learned more about online publishing but even after all these years as an online poetry editor she still finds it hard to keep up with social media.
All the original editors except for Kathleen have since moved on but she is still there and carrying on the torch and vision for Chris.
When Kathleen Kirk is not scouting for poets for Escape Into Life, she works part time at the Normal Public Library where she has been running live poetry readings.
Here are some of the upcoming readings at Normal Public Library:
August 17: Poetry is Normal open mic at 7:30 with theme of Cool Jazz/Beat Poetry
September 16: Poetry is Normal Presents Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble at 1:00 p.m.
October 19: Poetry is Normal open mic at 7:30 with theme of Haunting Poetry
November TBA: Poetry is Normal Presents Joanne Diaz and Duriel Harris
December 21: Poetry is Normal open mic at 7:30 with theme of Winter Solstice
January 17: Poetry is Normal Presents Bob Broad and Mike Theune at 7:30 talking about a new book on evaluating poetry
Kathleen is also a poet and has a new chapbook coming out titled The Towns, Unicorn Press, Spring 2018. The poems are about small towns and outlaws. Here is a poem by Kathleen which takes after Edward Hopper.
Sun in an Empty Room
Edward Hopper, Sun in an Empty Room (1963)
You knew from inside yourself.
You were not there.
Everything was light and shadow,
light and shadow,
but always you were drawn
to the light.
Squares of light triangulated
toward the window.
Everyone loved you.
No one knew you.
You were not there.
Everything was light
and shadow. You knew
from inside yourself.
Many artists and poets in BloNo identify with Hopper's paintings. For example Jeff Bess whom we visited with in the first chapter of this series. Jeff's paintings have been described as an eerie Hopper showing the darker existence of living in the Midwest.
The winters here sometimes are fierce and our American stoic community keeps to themselves most times. Yet, even here, we have our own knights in shinning armors who try to bring the community together and fight against the battles of isolation. Kathleen is one of those knights.
Kathleen Kirk doesn't put much thought into it. Just just does it. She has been organizing poetry readings for years now originally at Babbitt's Bookstore in Normal and now in the Normal Library. Public readings and publishing of poetry is something not to take lightly. It helps secure jobs for professors and it helps writers when submitting to grant applications.
The creatives in BloNo are fighting many battles but lucky for us we have neighbors like Kathleen calling Normal, home.