Friday, February 1, 2013

My 1993 LEO article on the Literary Renaissance


Ron Whitehead and Kent Fielding, co-editors of  "The Thinker Review," a University of Louisville student literary journal, were having a leisurely lunch with the famous Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg ("Howl") after his reading at the UL Student Center in October 1992.

Ginsberg commented that is plane was to leave Standiford Field at 2:30 p.m.. "I told him to look at his ticket," Whitehead says. "He pulled it out and it read 1:30."

By then it was 10 minutes to lift-off, so Whitehead and Fielding packed the poet into a car and took off for the airport at 90 miles an hour, disregarding red lights along the way. When they got to the terminal all three jumped out and sprinted toward the boarding gate.

"We'd almost made it when Ginsberg started running away from us. "Whitehead says, "Kent and I both began running to keep up, when suddenly Ginsberg turns around, bends down on one knee and pulls out a camera and takes our picture."

The resulting snapshot, which catches both men in mid-air, arms and feet flying, is emblematic of the frantic pace at which Whitehead and Fielding have operated for the past two years while trying to make Louisville a world literary capital. (Whitehead teaches literature at UL, Fielding is working on his master's degree in   creative writing.)

Last spring after collaborating on the last of three widely praised editions of "The Thinker Review," the dashing duo joined forces with Louisville business man Judah Thornwill to form the "Literary Renaissance,"
a non-profit organization whose ambition is to make Louisville the home base of a global literary community.

Thornwill, 31, owns Integrated Customer Services (JCS), a telemarketing company that specializes in promoting  the arts; it's past clients have included the Louisville Orchestra and Stage One: The Louisville Children's Theatre. Thornwill said that he became involved because he thought what Whitehead and Fielding was doing was unique.

"The volume and variety of things they had already accomplished amazed me," Thornwill says, "I thought this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me to lend my expertise to something I really believed in."

In addition to revitalizing the UL student review, Whitehead and Fielding has published numerous chapbooks (small, paper bound editions of poetry) featuring local and national writers; put out "The Dark Woods I Cross," an anthology of Louisville woman poets; and sponsored readings at UL by several world renowned writers, including Ginsberg, fellow Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and African American poet Amiri Baraka.

Most of the products of the Literary Renaissance - locally produced cds, posters and chapbooks - are aimed at college educated consumers younger than 30 who attend music concerts and poetry "slams", competitive readings.)

One division of the Renaissance, Riche's Lemon Herb Media, records and markets cds - the first being "Omphalos," a wild combination of a  poetry reading by Ferlinghetti, Baraka and several Louisville based poets with music ranging from classical to experimental rock.

Sales of "Omphalos," were brisk during October's 62-hour, Renaissance sponsored "Insomniacathon," featuring 90 poets and 40 bands over three days and nights at the Brewery Thunderdome and Tweligan's Tavern.

Whitehead says he's is happy to leave the marketing to Thornewill.

"It's a good thing that Judah is helping us," he says, "but I don't give a damn about money. All I care about is the generation of the creative spirit, which is the imagination."

(Whitehead and Fielding's lack of concern about money landed them in controversy last year, when their stewardship of "The Thinker Review," left the magazine $5,000 in debt and the two of them in dutch with UL's administration.)

In Whitehead's view the ultimate purpose of the Renaissance is to bring people together.

"When a new poet reads on stage during one of our events, he or she gets the same respect and appreciation as someone who has written six or seven books," he says.
"This is not an elitist organization. We want to be inclusive rather than exclusive."

Ferlinghetti told Whitehead during his visit last spring that "not since the 1950s had he seen such energy and interest in poetry."

Especially that of the Beats. Whitehead and Fielding clearly are fans. They recently read their own poetry at a festival celebrating Beat icon Jack Kerouac ("On the Road") in the writer's hometown Lowell, Mass., and even put a "Insomniacathon" ticket  on his tomb stone. More recently they sponsored a Louisville appearance  by Beat poet/enigma Gregory Corso.

And Rant, the literary journal of the Renaissance, a 12 by 12, 400 page publication due out early next year, reflects a diversity of tastes; it will include the work of writers from South Africa, Ireland, Norway and Kentucky.

The featured artists will include Wendell Berry, Sarah Epstein and Diana Di Prima, whose poem "Rant," provided the journal's name and its anthem, "The only war that matters is the war against the imagination."

Danny O'Bryan
Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO) 1993

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