The Chicago Review remains one of the best eclectic reviews; its pages are continually full of essential reading. Packed with a consistently broad range of diverse and challenging writing, every issue delivers one surprise or another, and the latest doesn’t disappoint.
In the center of the issue is a gallery of photographs presenting a who’s-who of American-based sculptors from mid-century. Often the photographs occurred in the studios of the sculptors where they are seen alongside their ongoing work. This is an endlessly-compelling, fascinating series of images. All the photographs were taken by John McMahon and arose from a 1965 gathering in New York: “In the spring of 1965, dozens of New York artists met for an invitation-only conference called the Waldorf Panels on Sculpture.” As described by the organizer, Philip Pavia:
The name, Waldorf Panels, [was] chosen as homage to the method used by the old Eighth-Street-Club’s pre-club. This pre-club met informally and regularly at the old Waldorf cafeteria on Sixth Avenue in the early to mid-1940s. Its method—the conversation panel—was a fuse through which working ideas and soul-searchings were exchanged in practical ways.
The transcript of this Waldorf panel was originally published in IT IS 6 accompanied by photographs of some of the participants. Some of the photographs in the Chicago Review selection were not previously published. The above mentioned “working ideas and soul-searchings” are on evident display in the faces and body language throughout all of the photographs: these are clearly artists living both in as well as through their work. From Ibram Lassaw’s struggling for ease while sitting with his dog beside an apparently finished work upon a desolate beach landscape to James Rosati or David Silka captured mid-work, cigarette in either hand or mouth, placing perhaps finishing touches on pieces in their workshops surrounded by others mid-process, the question that was a favorite adage of Abstract Expressionist painters of the 1950s—“when is it finished?”—haunts these photographs.
A new poem of Susan Howe, “Echolalia in Mrs. Piper,” drawing as it does in typical Howe-fashion on archival manuscript and esoteric orthography, nicely sets off the opening pages of this issue in perfect complement to the rough-hewn dilemma on display among the sculptors. While Italian poet Amelia Rosselli’s (1930-1996) essay “Metrical Spaces,” translated by Jennifer Scappettone, along with several poems from the newly published Loco motrix (U of Chicago Press 2012) demonstrates the promise in Rosselli’s contribution to the “problematic of poetic form”: “the language in which I write at isolated moments is only one, while my sonorous, logical, and associative experience is certainly that of all peoples, and reflectable in all languages.”
In addition to the above and more, this issue of the Chicago Review contains an alternate version of Alec Finlay’s introduction (with accompanying photographs) to Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selections (U of California Press, 2012), new poems of Brian Teare and Cole Swensen, and a generously laid-out and solid visual effect fiction piece by Nancy Fumero—the editors deserve credit for publishing such non-traditional prose. With the next double-issue set to be dedicated to the work of poet A.R. Ammons, in a return to what’s become Chicago Review’s now classic Special Issue format, this current number spins a good take on the traditional literary review and comes up with several pleasurable gems.