on seeing with words

Nina Corwin, 2001 To understand Nina Corwin as a poet is to understand prerogatives and their significance. When it comes to poetry, Corwin is out for the best view in town. She does not want it mediated nor brokered nor unduly politicized, not particularly beholden to any one poetry "scene" or school, as that would filter her experiences away from truth and understanding.

Corwin has preferences and passions to be sure -- the free improvisation and rich history of jazz, the spirit of world music, experimentalism in new writing -- but these offer her prerogatives, too. And with her broad view of poetry and life, she reflects her experiences to the world with words like eyes: comprehending, gathering sights, considering, distilling, ultimately expressing meaning and purpose.

Nina Corwin is one of the few people in every poetry ecology whom one could regard as a "hub personality." She is engaged with so many aspects of Chicago's literary community that it is hard to pin her down as to which one she identifies with most. But it would be wrong to suggest that this is simply a social process, a way to insinuate herself into as much business as she can get, because that would ignore the unique vantage point that is Corwin's prize and, reciprocated, also her gift.

Corwin was a poetry MC of longstanding with her Word Gourmet, a true grass roots reading series that spanned the 1990s well into the millennium. Today she oversees two series. One, the heir to the River Oak Arts readings, is at Molly Malone's Pub in suburban Forest Park, Illinois, which she co-MC's with Al Degenova. The other is at WomanMade Gallery in Milwaukee Avenue's gallery row near downtown Chicago. She has been a very active contributor to the Chicago Labor and Arts Festival. Literary scholars and jazz poetry pioneers, such as Tony Trigilio and Kent Foreman, have been frequent spirits in her company. Her poetry inspired an original suite of new music by the CUBE Ensemble. One might spot Corwin volunteering for Louder Than a Bomb in one month, then later organizing a reading for the Reconstruction Room, known for its taste for experimentation. She is a published poet who is at ease in local neighborhood open mikes but has taken on a mission to perform for other poetry spaces across the USA. And she has gone as far as Vietnam searching for the spark of recovery in the aftermath of war. Look carefully for this travel, this wider worldview, persistent in her writing and personal critique.

Her chosen career, psychotherapy, is not far from her when she is a writer. She is not exploitive in this, and does not turn her trusting clients into fodder for her writing. Yet her career still avails her a deep and grounded view into human nature. So she borrows tropes from it, working them out as parables or re-told fables. In doing so, fair is fair: she is careful to leave a certain punch and humility in these tales that make them as applicable to herself as they are to the people who prompted them from her. Corwin is known as a feminist, though she has said she is uncomfortable with being identified that way above other things. To her, creativity and feminism are more like hand-in-hand forces, one not prescribing behavior to the other but shining among a constellation of influences to elicit her next text.

- Kurt Heintz, October 2009

Read and listen to Nina Corwin's poetry.