Slice of life

Foundlings magazine brings art and politics together

Courtesy of Aidan Ryan

Foundlings is hosting poetry readings across central New York, even dipping into Toronto on Oct. 19.

For Aidan Ryan, one of the three co-editors of Foundlings Magazine, this summer’s heat was made even more unbearable by the “bullshit” he had to listen to on TV and the radio, to read on blogs and in the papers. Everyone had to say something about the election, it seemed, and to him they were all wrong.

Even during his trip in the Bahamas, he could not get away from the sound of Donald Trump’s “impetuous whine” or Hillary Clinton’s “stentorian self-righteousness,” as he called it. It was exhausting to be alive.

Then, Gary Crinnin’s Chapbook “Haiku to the Chief,” which contained one haiku for each United States president, was published and it was by all means different. In a time of political commentary supersaturation, Gerry Crinnin had managed to say something worth hearing, Ryan thought.

He did not know then that this book would become the start of a journey to bring politics and art together. Whistle Stop is a series of 4 collaborative readings from six Buffalo writers, each starting before presidential debates and ending right before the debate goes live on TV.

The Syracuse reading is scheduled for Oct. 9 at The Vault from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The tour will close in Toronto on Oct. 19.


The idea for Whistle Stop came after Ryan and the two other co-editors of Foundlings Magazine, Max Crinnin and S. James Coffed, organized a launch party for “Haiku to the Chief” at the presidential-themed Founding Fathers Pub in Buffalo. The party, which was actually a series of political readings from different poets, went so well that Ryan had the idea of taking the act on the road.

“So, I hit the phones, and tried to round up readers across western New York and Ontario, and secure bars to host our raucous readings,” said Ryan.

Benjamin Brindise, a writer who performed at the launch party and is performing at all for of the locations, said he met Aidan at the Foundlings launch party when they released their first volume. After crossing paths with Ryan a few more times, and having him ask him to read at the original book launch, Brindise was sold when the idea of the tour came up.

Brindise said the project hopes to show that the debates this cycle are “much more than a circus.”

“They are a defining moment in our history and if we’re able to affect the people watching them in a way that makes it less surreal and helps to ground them in this moment, then maybe we did something worthwhile,” Brindise said.

Kevin Bertolero, the editor of Ghost City Press, also worked with many of the authors on the tour. He said the tour was a chance for people to get out and listen to what others were thinking about and what their concerns were.

“This tour is bringing the literary community together across New York state. Whether or not people go to these readings for the political discussions, they’ll get to experience the work of a lot of great local writers, and what’s better than that?” Bertolero said.

Bertolero described this election season as insane, as Trump and Clinton are such controversial figures in contemporary politics and culture and there are so many people closely following the election, especially millennials. Regardless of who wins this upcoming election, everyone knows that big changes are coming, he said.

“All writing is political, even if not overtly so. There are always issues of identity and culture being dealt with in literature, and these are both incredibly political topics,” Bertolero said.

Aidan Ryan, founder of the magazine, said he doesn’t think the tour has a coherent message. He said many of them shared “convictions and philosophies and attitudes and whimsies,” but they weren’t going around promoting a creed or an ideology, a party or a candidate.

“Really, we just want to read and listen and have a drink and talk for a while,” Ryan said.

Brindise said each writer has things to say, and he thinks they are all just peddling some smelling salts, trying to wake people from the political coma they’ve been put in by the nonsense that’s been escalating since the primaries.

“The Whistle Stop Tour has a mad howling, a mating call, a ringing in the ears; it is the attempt of an undisciplined chorus to harmonize with the echoes of the dead. It’s a protest, it’s a serious joke, and it’s an excuse to get together on the nights of the televised election debates for some reason other than the televised election debates,” Ryan said. “Whistle Stop is a hell of a good time.”

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