American Poet William Allegrezza Publishes Locofo Chapbooks Just Like So Many Blades of Grass
“Did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name? I say democracy is only of use there that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruit in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between people, and their beliefs - in religion, literature, colleges and schools- democracy in all public and private life.” Poet Walt Whitman at the 19th Century
“I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.”
Poet Walt Whitman at the 19th Century
Poetry is, as many disciplines, an art form which requires patience, fortitude, solace and bravery. American history is annotated by publishing houses, poets and heroes... patriotic provocateurs who did the unimaginable with flare and zest when no one else was watching, when it was needed or when nobody else dared. American literature, poetry and drama is written by brave hearts who looked their time squarely in the eye- challenging America to be better- turned their back on the present as if it were the past and marched into the future, leading a whole generation. At times these men and women are outcasts; at others, heroes; and others still, villians.
William Blake wrote “America, a Prophecy” in 1793, seventeen years after America’s independence. There is Joni Mitchell, Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg who’s “Howl" immortalizes 70’s (Ginsberg has also said in his work “Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness” ). In this century and the previous 20th, will history argue that artists as Saul Williams, N.W.A., Eminem, Tupac Shakur and Kenderick Lamar were not only wordsmiths but vanguards who outlined a new age - new possibilities - with their belligerent diatribes? But even before any of that, there was in the 18th century Phyllis Wheatly (first published African-American female poet, born in West Africa), Philip Freneau and Henry Wadsworth Fellow (American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride")- some other names of the revolutionaries annotating American history with lines as:
“Not gold but only men can make / A people great and strong; / Men who for truth and honor's sake / Stand fast and suffer long.” Poet William Ralph Emerson at the 19th Century
“Locofo is a reference to the Locofoco political movement, a small political splinter group from the Democratic party in the 1900s that was originally meant to light a match for a new movement.” William Allegrezza, American Poet and Publisher of LocoFo Chapbooks
“My original ideas was to have 100 poets do 100 chapbooks as a response to the first 100 days, and I was not sure that I would get enough poets to join me. Once I put out the call and manuscripts came pouring in, then I knew I would be able to complete the task.” William Allegrezza, American Poet and Publisher of LocoFo Chapbooks
The nineteenth century was, of course, a time of identity questing for a world power coming into its own. America was not a world power. The center of the world was Europe. World War I or II had not yet been fought, America was still an agricultural society built on the pillars of slave trade and “free labor“ and the United Nations did not exist. In the 19th Century, America was exploring westward to the gold rush and would fight the Civil War, a conflict so central to the American soul it is still being battled in Charlottesville and in 21st century American elections.
It appears that the 21st century at 2017, specifically at Nov. 9th 2016, is also a place of questioning and identity formation, battles and ongoing conflicts centuries old. Of course, Walt Whitman (”Leaves of Grass" published in 1855) is one of the poets who William Allegrezza, publisher of Locofo Chaps, claims as one of his favorites. Walt Whitman who as William Allegrezza is one part outdoors man; one part poet; another teacher; and yet again, musician. Who knows maybe this William Allegrezza character is Walt Whitman, in parts, reincarnated? Sparknotes (yes, I am quoting Sparknotes) says of Walt Whitman the revered poet of American letters, “Throughout his poetry, Whitman praised the individual. He imagined a democratic nation as a unified whole composed of unique but equal individuals.”
William Allegrezza's (”Bill” to poets and friends) Lofoco Chaps has sent hundreds of chapbooks from poets around the world as In These Days of Rage, Liberal elite media rag. SAD!,and Defying Trumplandia: Pithy Peminst Poetry by the postal bagful to #45 at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. (The site also sells hard copies for $5 a piece.).
I took a little time to speak with Bill about his brave and timely project as well as his poetry passion for the people. He was kind enough to answer the questions in the transcript below::
“I was angry when Trump was elected and knew that I must have some creative outlet to focus that anger, and I also heard from many other poets that they were in the same place.”
1.) When did you begin writing/reading poetry Bill?
I have been writing poetry in some form since I was a teenager and reading widely since college. My focus in college and graduate school was poetry, and I have followed that focus ever since by starting presses, readings series, teaching, and writing.
“Several major American poets were part of that political movement.”
2.) Why did you and Moria Publishing do this- LocoFo Chap books (What is a LocoFo)? Where did you get the idea? How hard was it to implement once conceived? Where there any real obstacles?
I was angry when Trump was elected and knew that I must have some creative outlet to focus that anger, and I also heard from many other poets that they were in the same place. I started writing some political pieces and thought about the focus on the first one hundred days of a presidency. Moria Books was already up and running, so I thought it would be easy to have poets do a chapbook response, but since political poetry is not the focus of Moria Books, I thought it would be best to work it out under an imprint. My original ideas was to have 100 poets do 100 chapbooks as a response to the first 100 days, and I was not sure that I would get enough poets to join me. Once I put out the call and manuscripts came pouring in, then I knew I would be able to complete the task. The poets provided ideas for the project after it got started. For example, I individually mail the chapbooks to the White House, and one poetry suggested taking photos of the process. A poet also suggested having the poets write reviews of other chapbooks in the project to build steam, and for the many readings outside Chicago where I am based, the poets put them together. Locofo is a reference to the Locofoco political movement, a small political splinter group from the Democratic party in the 1900s that was originally meant to light a match for a new movement. Several major American poets were part of that political movement.
“As of November, there have been over 180,000 individual visits to the Locofo Site and over 400,000 page views.”
3.) How many books have you published since beginning your quest? Which book(s) stand out in your memory? Why? How many folks have visited the site? How many books have been published?
We have published 120, and I have twelve more ready to good to print. There are so many excellent chapbooks that I don't want to focus on any one. I did like the several anthologies that came from the project though because the poets were great and are from poets who do get enough space in the poetry scene. As of November, there have been over 180,000 individual visits to the Locofo Site and over 400,000 page views.
“I still believe that, yet I’m content pushing the words on the page and watching the interplay of sound and form without so much focus on content.. I want to write poems that are a view from the mountain but also the whisper of two conspirators in religion, love, friendship, whatever with words that are charged but daily.”
4.) Is there a tipping point? What/when/where is the stopping point for LocoFo Chapbooks?
I thought it was originally the 100 chapbooks, but as the project has continued, I am not sure when it will stop. I have long thought that American poets need to be more specifically political, so perhaps the project will morph in that direction after this years.
5.) Why do you write Bill?
If you were to ask what poetry does, I could spout out a list, or if you were to ask why people write poetry, I could throw out a plethora of reasons, but when you ask why I write, then it turns personal. I specifically left my name out of the Locofo Chaps project. I presented my own protest work elsewhere and let the 140 or so poets who are part of the project speak for me. When I was younger, I had a list of reasons of why I wrote, but now I just want to write.
So why do I write? I feel compelled to do so. I would like to leave the answer there, but I hear the question, what compels the urge? Is my muse political, social, religious, personal, or psychological? None and all. In a poem from 15 years ago, I wrote, “To write/is to engage with an agenda.” I still believe that, yet I’m content, pushing the words on the page and watching the interplay of sound and form without so much focus on content. I want my poetry to touch the personal without my own personal and without really needing to be personal. I want to write poems that are a view from the mountain but also the whisper of two conspirators in religion, love, friendship, whatever with words that are charged but daily. I want to repeat Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well I contradict myself,” but I know that my multitudes have shifted since his period.
William (Bill) Allegrezza (born 1974) edits Moria Books and teaches at Indiana University Northwest. He has published many poetry books; seven chapbooks, including Sonoluminescence (co-written with Simone Muench) and Filament Sense(Ypolita Press); and many poetry reviews, articles, and poems. His poetry has been translated into Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. He founded and curated series A, a reading series in Chicago, from 2006 to 2010. He also co-founded Cracked Slab Books and edited it for five years. He earned his PhD in Comparative Literature at Louisiana State University.
American poet William Allegrezza reads his work below:
Other LocoFo ChapBook Articles