Bloomington’s Artful Dodge

Contrary to popular (maybe?) belief, this is not a socio-political analysis and/or diatribe about the city of Bloomington and any of its municipal policies *COUGH*  moreafforablehousingdowntown *COUGH* whatsupwiththeparkingspotsohsorrywhatparkingspots *COUGH* I swear it isn’t.

Nor is it about the other Bloomington.

And because I live in Bloomington, Indiana, the other Bloomington would of course be Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, home of a delightful Motel 6 which featured, when my wife and I stayed a night a few years back, cigarette burns on the blankets, a bloody handprint on the wall, the pungent odor of unwashed derriere, and a drug-bust at 1:00 in the morning.


It’s really not about Bloomington dodging anything in an artful manner. Rather, it’s about the literary magazine, Artful Dodge.

But, really, as always, it’s also about me thumbing through a bookstore’s poetry section on lunch break, sometimes with a bit of molasses and tomato in my beard (judge if you want, but isn’t that what beards are for?).

Enter Caveat Emptor, on the town square. Brimming with bookdust, crumbling leather covers, and a couple of old dudes behind the cash register who have beards so long I can hope to match them probably in a few decades at the least. Mostly empty during the noon-ish hour except for the inevitable person wandering around wondering if they’ll happen upon any books from the current decade. Pretty quiet except for the occasional sneeze, some unrushed footsteps, and someone muttering “That’s a lot of books.” It’s great fun.

On this particular day, I have already found a small jackpot–a signed copy of Ted Kooser’s Delights & Shadows, made out to Elizabeth. No idea who Elizabeth is, but she apparently didn’t want to hang on to a book Ted Freaking Kooser signed and personalized for her. Her loss, and for a few bucks, my treat.

I had another book already in my hands, too. I can’t remember what it was, though, since I didn’t end up buying it. Any time I walk into a bookstore, I set a limit for myself, either monetary or numerical: I keep any purchases under a certain number or under a certain price range. I’m not always successful in staying under my limit, but since I haven’t yet spent all of my money on old books or bookcases to hold them, I’d say the rule is working well enough.

Anyway, I had two books, one of them significantly cool, and it was probably nearing the end of the lunch hour. Which meant I should head out soon and head back to the office.

But there’s always time to look at just one more shelf, right?

So I did. And that’s when I found the Fall 1985 issue of Artful Dodge.

Not that the Fall 1985 issue is really significant in any way, as far as I know. But I recognized that Artful Dodge was a literary journal I’d read before online, and to which I had probably submitted some work (which has undoubtedly been declined, as I’m pretty sure I haven’t been published there). So I picked it up and began noticing some pretty neat things.

First, I noticed that there was a painting on the cover of what appeared to be an Egyptian pharaoh petting a black cat. I’m not the biggest fan of pharaohs or cats (in spite of sharing my house with two of them…cats, not pharaohs), but I do like the picture. Especially since it wasn’t printed on the cover —  it was glued on, and one of the corners was already detached. It seems more personal, having the cover art glued on. Like someone had to do it by hand, intentionally, and maybe wasn’t as liberal in their application of adhesive as they thought they’d been. Anyway, it seemed neat, so I opened it up.

And the first thing that caught my eye was that Karen Kovacik was listed as the Art Editor. In this advanced year of 2019, I can say that Karen Kovacik, by this time, has not only written and translated many books of poetry and scholarship, but has also served as Indiana’s State Poet Laureate. Huge accomplishments for any poet. However, in 1985, she hadn’t yet published her first book, wouldn’t be the State Poet Laureate for some time, and was the Art Editor of Artful Dodge. Another check of the “Pretty Durn Neat” box.

I also thought it was cool that a poet with such strong Hoosier connections ( she also teaches at IUPUI in Indianapolis) would have been on the editorial staff for an Ohio-based journal. Granted, Ohio and Indiana share a border and are largely part of what I hope non-Midwestern people think of as The Giant Sea of Corn and Soybean, but I thought it was an interesting connection.

Until I saw, at the bottom of that page, that Artful Dodge’s 1985 mailing address was in Bloomington.

No, not the other Bloomington.

As it turns out, Artful Dodge was originally based out of Bloomington, Indiana, home of Hoagy Carmichael, bars full of drunk Hoosier fans, and my cats. What a world. Needless to say, I thought it was super cool.

Though the really fun discovery happened in the checkout line (which wasn’t much of a line–just a guy talking to the old dudes about sandwiches or something. They just nodded sagely at him and stroked their magnificent beards.).

Skimming through the last pages, I noticed that the last couple were advertisements for what I assume were sponsoring companies. One of them, The Daily Grind, is advertised as being in Dunkirk Square, near IU campus, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t there any more (there is a coffehouse by the same name in Brown County, a thirty-minute drive away–perhaps they moved).

Another company, however, was Caveat Emptor.

The same bookstore I was standing in, about to buy a book that, 34 years earlier, they had helped sponsor.

Anyway, the 1985 issue of Artful Dodge isn’t one of the craziest things in the world — just one of the neater things I’ve found on a lunch break.



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