Writer’s Garret: When does the next bar stool take off? A poet’s retrospective of Chicago—Part IV

Writer’s Garret: When does the next bar stool take off? A poet’s retrospective of Chicago—Part IV

By By Christine Swanberg

The Poetry Center of Chicago has hosted major poets at various venues including the Art Institute. I have heard many virtuoso poets read through them. One of the most meaningful was hearing Lawrence Ferlinghetti at the Rublof Auditorium. I read the Beat poets in the Sixties, and was especially enthralled with “The Coney Island of the Mind.” It is still one of my favorites. The Beat movement became part of my psyche, and partly because of it, I spent most of my 20s “on the road” all over the world. It was the Beats who gave us permission to be beatific, to take to the road and discover who we might be. A few of us took the road of poetry. That road used to be narrow and lonely. Now it’s more like a freeway with lots of lanes. Even the Poetry Center has branched out into yearly juried contests of emerging writers, invited to read at the Chicago Cultural Center. Having been chosen twice amongst the emerging “Chicago” writers has given me that gear-shift we poets need along that now-crowded freeway of poetry.

As I said, living 90 miles northwest of Chicago has its advantages. Not only has Chicago given me some of the “juice” a writer needs, but also it’s just a world-class city. When we go into Chicago, either on the train or driving, I always remark that we could be going to an Eastern bloc country. Rockford is quiet, tree-lined, garden-filled, river-sected and prairie-laden. Once you cross over the Fox River, you can feel the energy change. Approaching Chicago from the northwest can be like going to a foreign country if you are observant enough. You can see the wonderful old Polish neighborhoods with Slovakian churches such as Saint Mary of the Angels and Holy Innocents. Of particular beauty and intrigue is Ukrainian Village with Saint Nicholas Cathedral. I love that these neighborhoods retain their exotic, European flavors and architecture.

I am not a food or feature writer, but if I were, Chicago would be endless: Greektown and Chinatown are my favorites, not yet gentrified beyond recognition. It would be pointless to recount the meals I’ve had in Chicago—hundreds, and always good. It would be pointless to try to recap all the music I’ve heard at Orchestra Hall, the Lyric Opera, Rush Street piano bars, the late Mr. Kelley’s and the late London House, where names like Duke Ellington or Freddie Hubbard were no strangers. A year isn’t complete without a musical at the Schubert or a play at the Steppenwolf. The Art Institute is simply something “we do.” The sky show at the Planetarium is virtual outerspace. A concert at the Rockefeller Chapel or Michigan Avenue Presbyterian Church’s “Do It Yourself Messiah” are icing on the cake. The summer is dotted with Blues, Jazz and Gospel festivals in Grant Park.

I am not a feature writer. I am a poet, who has Chicago to thank for a multitude of lyrical experiences over three decades. So here we are, 30 years later, sitting on top of the Hancock Building watching a plane disappear across the inland sea, Lake Michigan. Here we are just waiting for the next bar stool to take off. And it will, my friend. It will.

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