Jordan Stempleman: poet, lecturer, organizer, hat wearer.
"I remember a quote from Clement Greenberg: 'As we get older, our tastes should widen as they become more refined.'" So says
Jordan Stempleman when you ask him how he chooses the participants in his ongoing A Common Sense Reading Series
That Stempleman cites an art critic rather than, say, Billy Collins is typical of his own broad cultural appetites. With Common Sense, Stempleman says, "I try to show my taste in literature, which is pretty wide, I think." If that self-assessment sounds a little confident, there's good reason: He teaches writing and literature at the Kansas City Art Institute, co-edits the online video and poetry blog The Continental Review and has published 10 books of poetry.
"We have anything from spoken word to academic poetry - or anything, really," he says. That means local writers practicing various disciplines, matched with smartly chosen imports from around the country.
On Saturday, March 8, A Common Sense returns, and Stempleman's curatorial ambition is on full display. The lineup: Amie Barrodale, fiction editor for Vice magazine and a recent Kansas City transplant; scary-funny pop-culture poet Jennifer L. Knox, of Ames, Iowa; and the just-plain-scary Seattle poet Rauan Klassnik, who describes his 2013 collection, The Moon's Jaw, as "lyrical fragmented chunks of language" that draw from "wastelands of body and soul."
It's a way for KC's literature curious to hear from unfamiliar places and persons, but it's also about sending people like Knox and Klassnik home with a richer impression of this town's writers and readers.
"It does a couple things, but the biggest is that it documents the type of writing and the interest in writing that we have going on in the city," Stempleman says of his project. "It puts us on a map and removes the idea that we're just a flyover city, and people - authors - can come here and have good experiences. More and more readers are coming to places like Kansas City because we have an audience here and because it's another place where good writing can be found."
Stempleman doesn't maintain a narrow definition of good writing - or where it should be absorbed. So he books Common Sense at rotating locations throughout the metro, in order to attract a varied audience. But a good mix in the seats and on the podium doesn't necessarily mean that the writers themselves are strong readers. Is Stempleman's latest ensemble prepared for a performance?
"I've seen poets who read better than they write and poets who write better than they read, and poets who do both," Knox says. "I think we poets are tuned in, though. We can start [writing] on a blank sheet of paper, and we can start talking in someone else's voice - even if it's part of our own. I started out as a slam poet as well as a theater major, so I'm very conscious of how I read, and I want to make it as entertaining as possible. And I know the two other readers who are there that night as well are doing the same thing. This is a good one to go to."
OK, she sounds ready.
On the other hand, Barrodale offers curious first-time Common Sense attendees a different incentive.
"I went last time [to A Common Sense reading]. I noticed the crowd was young and attractive and intelligent," Barrodale writes in an e-mail. "So I guess if I had been single, I would have thought, 'Oh, this is a good place to meet people.'"
A Common Sense Reading Series with Amie Barrodale, Jennifer L. Knox and Rauan Klassnik takes places this Saturday, March 8th, at 7 p.m. Irving Amphitheater, 4402 Oak St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111. Free.