Hyde Park poets take to Poem Present podium

Poem Present’s UofChicagoland showcases upcoming poets from the Chicago (and University of Chicago) community.

By Jessen O'Brien

With the arrival of spring, students and faculty are slowly emerging from libraries, dorms, and apartments, eager to re-explore their neighborhood in the sun’s gradually warming rays. Spotlighting local rising poets from both the university and the surrounding community, Poem Present’s UofChicagoland, offers springtime explorers an opportunity to discover a different side of Hyde Park.

UofChicagoland will feature poets from around the city, including writers published in the Journal of Ordinary Thought, a periodical that showcases work by low-income adults. University of Chicago undergrads, grad students and a smattering of high school poets round out the lineup.

According to Avery Thomas, one of the presenting poets and a fourth-year, this Poem Present differs from past events because it offers a broad sample of local poetic talent. “What distinguishes UofChicagoland from other Poem Presents is the fact that it focuses on poetry produced solely by this community, instead of focusing on just the work of one poet who comes to UChicago from elsewhere.”

With UofChicagoland, poets in the early stages of their careers have a rare opportunity to expose their work to a relatively large and receptive audience. Some of the writers at this event have read for the series before; graduate student and poet Anthony Madrid first read for Poem Present in 2003. He asked to present his poetry again at this event because, in his own words, “I want people to hear my poems.”

The event also allows some poets, such as Thomas, to explore specific themes within their poetry. Thomas suggests that deciding what poems to read for UofChicagoland has led him to certain epiphanies about his work. “As I narrowed down my poems for the final collection, I realized that most of what I view as my best work seems to center around a couple of general themes—relationship to place, interaction with the space preceding sleep, and an attempt to apply reason to all of those things which defy reason, namely personal relationships and reactionary emotions.”

Although UofChicagoland’s innovative setup has many benefits—Madrid anticipates that “there’ll be younger and better-looking types”—the sheer number of writers presents a distinct challenge for generating interest within the local community. The focus on a diverse selection of emerging poets in Chicago might lack the appeal of Poem Present’s usual programs, which tend to focus on the work of more established poets. “Frankly, it’s a bit discouraging,” Thomas said. “You would think that a larger number of poets reading and a more diverse set of perspectives and backgrounds would make this Poem Present appealing to a wide variety of people, but its lack of attention may keep that from being the case.”

However, despite this challenge, the unique format emphasizing a great diversity of poetry makes UofChicagoland a welcome addition to the Poem Present series. As the last traces of winter recede into memory and Chicagoans step outside again, UofChicagoland provides a perfect opportunity to rediscover and support the talent in this community.