Two weekends ago, high school poets from across Chicago took to the stage for the finals of the Louder than a Bomb (LTAB) poetry slam, a competition that seeks to engage the city in the “pedagogy of listening,” as Young Chicago Authors marketing manager José Olivarez says. Olivarez has been involved in LTAB since 2005: while he began as a student participant in the festival, he’s now working to make the slam an annual reality.
Daniel Borzutzky’s new poetry collection Lake Michigan slides from the familiar to the fictional in the space of one line, so quickly you might almost miss it. In the collection’s opening poem, “Lake Michigan, Scene 0,” the poet writes, “And the mayor said…we can no longer have empty schools we can no longer have / failing schools we can no longer have public schools we can no longer have public / bodies.”
Thanksgiving Still Life
This week on SSW Radio, we spoke with a youth poet laureate, a local philanthropy organization, and heard a personal story about homelessness
Chicago’s second-ever Youth Poet Laureate is artist and activist Patricia Frazier. Frazier grew up in the Ida B. Wells Homes in Bronzeville and later in Englewood, and has been writing poetry since elementary school. She was a two-time finalist at the Louder Than A Bomb spoken word competition while a student at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep. In her poems, she says, she is “trying to disrupt mainstream narratives as often as I can, and also trying to make space for everyone’s narrative, and trying to make space for detail and specificity. A broad narrative is okay, but a narrative that has no holes, that does not tell a single story, is the most important to me.” She’s now publishing a collection of poems with Haymarket Books, which will be out next summer; in the meantime, you can follow her on Twitter @hakunamattities.
Only those of us who come from you
understand. Even within the inner core of your
madness there is beauty. This is the side of you that has never been seen.
Today they say bad things about you, their reports are
short-sighted, good to suit the taste of today’s sensations.
But I still love you Englewood. Your harsh realities became the chisel
that shaped my soul. I didn’t forget about you Englewood, Dear Englewood
We made your vacant lots playgrounds
Milk crates were carved and cut for full court
Old sneakers became street ornaments that dangle
From your power lines
Your fire hydrants transformed our corners into water parks
at dawn we pitched pennies along the cracks of your concrete
Dear Englewood… your blocks were our universities
Your corners became the designated location for our panel discussions
your night-time skies were our philosophers,
your alcoholics were our poets, but only those of us who come
from you would understand. In the spring your rain drops
became our libations, the rain water that accumulated in your potholes became our wishing wells. I often think of you Englewood…Dear Englewood what would our lives have been like if you weren’t economically deprived? Would I have had fewer friends who lost their lives? Would there have been better schools and parks?
Would I have seen fewer lives fall apart?
I eyed widely
things I couldn’t buy.
“Nice!” and “New!” nosed, but no.
MISSING PEOPLE. People-missing.
Below something, behind peepholes.
I would too. I have to. I have two.
Flipped sign. Closing time.
“Have a good one.”
Vida Cross’s Bronzeville at Night: 1949 is full of spells—spells to protect children, spells to blind ignorant sociologists, spells to aid in grieving and remembrance. The poet, professor, and third-generation Chicagoan’s debut poetry collection is a web of stories that, like spells, are small in scope and broad in impact.
I can’t relate to hip hop anymore
Instrumentals and old samples
of R&B and Hip Hop songs are haunting
I am standing
like the last, lone tooth
in the rum breath
of an old Black man,