A Month for Poetry
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
We celebrated Black History Month in February, then Women’s History Month in March. Poetry claims our collective attention in April. That was by design, according to the Academy of American Poets, who established National Poetry Month in 1996. There are only so many months to go around, and the Academy of American Poets wanted to stake its claim before we were fresh out. (I’m paraphrasing).
I mean, anybody can get their own day. Peace gets the first day of the year, although Bloody Marys and Hangovers also stake that claim. (It should be one or the other, no?). Birds get a day, along with pandas, sea monkeys, and kittens. So do bobbleheads. Baked Alaska, eggs benedict and lobster newburg, yes. (Sorry to report, you just missed National Lobster Newburg Day. Or did you?) Freedom, in case peace wasn’t enough. Argyle, sure. Vodka, we’ve all got that circled. Bubble gum, potato chips, corned dogs, cheese fondue, grilled cheese, licorice, sourdough bread, chocolate mousse, crème brulee, hoagies: basically anything you’d eat at a state fair or a French pâtisserie. Cartoonists, biographers, postal workers, workaholics, and interns. Even barcodes have a designated day.
A month, though. That is different. A day, you just need a cluster of crazy obsessives to, like, wear their navy white argyle skirts or buy their kittens cedar cat cottages. A month, you need a lot of buy in; the only way for a theme month to stick is for a lot of people to actually care. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, they work for that reason. Same with St. Paddy’s Day. The Academy of American Poets included this in its calculus, claiming to enlist “a variety of government agencies and officials, educational leaders, publishers, sponsors, poets, and arts organizations to help.” It even registered the trademark.
But why April, other than it was one of the months still on the board?
“In coordination with poets, booksellers, librarians, and teachers, the Academy of American Poets chose a month when poetry could be celebrated with the highest level of participation. April seemed the best time within the year to turn attention toward the art of poetry, in an ultimate effort to encourage poetry readership year-round.”
I cannot say what poetry April inspires in the rest of the country, but in Chicago it’s a hopeful month, a passageway month, a rebirth month, a month we anticipate with the excitement of change, positive change, a change we’ve thought on, fantasized about, that we feel we’ve earned. I’m speaking of weather, of course, but more than that. Chicagoans don’t hibernate in the winter; we tough it out. When you’ve been here a while, you adopt strategies. Warm up your car before leaving the house. Bundle up. Say “Fuck you,” and toddle around in nothing but long sleeves. Drink. Zoom in rather than show up. Heating pads. Hot showers. Hot water bottles. (Okay, that might stretch the definition of “toughing it out,” but do what you have to do, is the point).
Then comes April. We give winter March, even though the calendar tells us that the first day of spring is the 20th (at least this year). We know better. Thinking spring starts on the first day of spring is a fool’s game. We know better than to put away our shovels, ice scrapers and rock salt. If you’re already swapping out storm for screen windows, you might want to look into U-Hauls to get you back to Tallahassee or Tucson or Tuskegee, wherever it is you’re from. No, we’re not there yet, not in March.
April, though. Even when mornings still bring icy breath clouds we know, we just know, the worst is OVER. At some point, usually creeping toward the middle of the month, there will be glorious sunshiny days. Our lives all get easier. People start to strip down. Head to the beaches (no shit, even when it’s, like, 60). Host patio parties. Ask for the outdoor tables at cafes. Our lives all get prettier. Birds chirp, the sun rises early, flowers bloom, brown turns to green, colors pop all around us. Everybody, it seems, is in a better mood, a more generous mood, we’re all best friends. Mind you, this is an idyllic time in part because it’s not too hot yet; that’s when shootings ramp up and all kinds of imbecilic if not downright evil behavior overtakes us.
So: April. It’s a poetic month. It’s a testament to the art form that poetry, as in “poetry in motion,” is part of our lexicon, used generically to mean anything lovely or inspiring, an okay way to describe whatever sings to our innermost idea of great. There are poetic sunsets and speeches and sporting feats. Meal presentations might inspire the term. A clever comeback. A thought. In reality, poetry is not, cannot be, so easily classified. There are a zillion different styles, images, themes, and forms, and of course some of this poetry is much better than others, ranging from simply awful to profoundly excellent. If we’re being exact with our language, we would not say, “Oh, that’s so poetic,” because it’s reductive and imprecise. A great poet would never shortcut the language that way. Nevertheless, we understand what is meant: a deep impression has been made, a moment invigorated with something special and worthy of a pause.
I am all for Poetry Month for all the reasons the Academy of American Poets intended. I must say, though, that in Chicago we don’t have a Poetry Month so much as a Poetry Year. Chicagoans produce a high velocity of quality poetry, wire to wire, and that poetry is read, listened to, discussed, and dissected ALL OVER THE CITY. The number of our city’s good poets, even great poets, is breathtaking. I’m talking about right now, but also any time you choose going back more than a hundred years. Chicago is the birthplace of Poetry magazine and the home of the Poetry Foundation, surely the most important such institution in the country. Our city also spawned the formidable, constantly churning Chicago Poetry Center. We are the birthplace of Slam, still going uninterrupted these decades later. We’re the creators of Louder Than a Bomb and so many other youth poetry movements. We’re where regular poetry readings take place in bookstores, bars, coffee shops, community centers, retirement villages, and private homes. We’re a place loaded with salons and critique groups, a bunch of poetry journals and book publishers. We’re the city in which, as early as 1913, formative and influential artists like Fenton Jonson were digging a path for future stars. We’re the place where poetry, from the likes of Eugene Fields, appeared regularly in newspapers. We’re the place that fostered the insanely important careers of Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, Carolyn Rodgers, Frank Marshall Davis, David Hernandez, and Rane Arroyo. We’re the place that has captured all the biggest prizes, like when Lisel Mueller won the Pulitzer Prize. Chicago is a place with poetry embedded in its consciousness.
That said, poetry still rides backseat to novels, stories, plays, memoirs, films and just about every other literary genre. It’s true that, for many, poetry is a nice idea but too hard or too inaccessible or too much of a bother. So let’s give the poets April to showcase their talents and be appreciated, and for the passive poetry crowd to experience what they’re missing the rest of the year. This April, the Chicago poetry scene will keep doing what it does, but maybe juice the calendar just a bit to play along.
The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame is involved in a handful of programs related to Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry. This month is a good time to also make more people aware of that publication, which is a carnival of our best contemporary work. Everybody else is busy, too. Below my signature line you’ll find a partial calendar of poetry events happening across the month. You’ll notice that there is at least one poetry something happening ALMOST EVERY SINGLE DAY. If you don’t discover or savor or just enjoy poetry this April, that’s on you.
I’ll keep updating it when I hear about additional worthwhile programs.
Donald G. Evans is the author of a novel and story collection, as well as the editor of two anthologies of Chicago literature, most recently Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry. He is the Founding Executive Director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.
POETRY MONTH: APRIL 2023
April 1: National Poetry Month Kickoff Poetry and Lyric Showcase. Woodson Regional Library (9525 S. Halsted St.), starting at 1 p.m. Expressive performances and readings by local artists and poets Tarnynon Onumonu, Mashavu Wilson, Mariah Scott, avery r. young, and Viola Lee. Ages 10 and older welcome.
April 2: Poetry Workshops Make Better Poets. Join Poetry Global Network and The Poetry Academy’s Mark Fishbein for a classic writers workshop. Bring a poem to the Zoom table and you’ll get honest feedback from your peers. 10 a.m. Register in advance.
April 3: An Evening of Poetry: Marty Cain, Stefania Gomez, and Carleen Tibbetts. Pilsen Community Books (1102 W. 18th Street). 7-8 p.m.
April 4: Radical Poetry & Performance Reading Series: Craig Santos Perez, Reyna Grande, and Sonia Guiñasaca with Program for Writers Students. Madison Street Books (1127 W. Madison Street). 6-8 p.m. Writers Craig Santos Perez, Reyna Grande, and Sonia Guiñasaca will be joined by Program for Writers student Angelica Julia Davila.
April 5: Testimonies on Paper: Art and Poetry of South Asian Women. South Asia Institute (1925 S. Michigan Avenue). Testimonies on Paper explores the many ways in which women artists have engaged with their cultures and societies through their work, and how they have interwoven their experiences as South Asian women in their work. An array of works on paper by South Asian women artists from the Hundal Collection is brought together with scintillating responses by South Asian women poets, to create a space for alternative narratives of femininity and identity as the poets respond to the works exhibited.
April 6: Book Release, Charif Shanahan's Trace Evidence. Haymarket House (800 W. Buena Ave.), starting at 6:30 p.m. Women & Children First presents an in-person, offsite event celebrating this important book release. For this event, Charif will be joined by poets Ari Banias, Adrian Matejka, Margaret Ross, Erika L. Sánchez, and avery r. young. In Trace Evidence, the urgent follow-up to his award-winning debut Into Each Room We Enter without Knowing, Charif continues his piercing meditations on the intricacies of mixed-race identity, queer desire, time, mortality, and the legacies of anti-Blackness in the US and abroad.
April 8: YOUTH: The Form's the Thing: An Intro to Poetic Forms with Czaerra Galicinao Ucol - StoryStudio Chicago. StoryStudio Chicago (4043 N. Ravenswood Ave. #222), 10 a.m. until noon. To celebrate National Poetry Month, StoryStudio Chicago staffer and resident poet Czaerra Galicinao Ucol is teaching a free youth poetry workshop. This introduction to poetic forms is via Zoom.
April 8: The Self Care and Chill Poetry Night Experience. City Winery Chicago (1200 W. Randolph Street). Doors open at six, show starts at eight. Maui The Poet, relationship author and spoken word artist, presents a love-filled, humorous and fun poetry night. The show includes other poets, with the headliner ending the night with a discussion of her relationship to poems and stories.
April 8: The Peoples Music & Poetry. Back of the Lakeside Tower Building (3726 N Kenmore Ave); walk around to the back and meet the security. 8 p.m. until midnight. This event will showcase the arts, poetry readings, hip hop performances, as well as an open mic.
April 10: Traveling Mollys Virtural Literary Open Mic and Reading Series. 7-9 p.m. Featuring Jennifer Franklin and Dean Rader. Email if you want to read and make sure to include your name and email address. Ten people will be selected for the open mic; limited to five minutes each.
April 10: Arne Weingart presents his poetry collection, Concentration. Seminary Co-op Bookstore (5751 S. Woodlawn Ave.), 6 p.m.
April 11: Making Sense/Making Nonsense: Writing Original Sonnets. King Branch, Chicago Public Library (3436 S. King Drive). 4-6 p.m. This workshop is presented by Illinois Humanities and will be led by Lucy Biederman, a professional teacher and writer. Food and drinks will be provided. This event is free and open to the public for students in grades 8 through 12, but space is limited. Registration is required.
April 12: Pie & Poetry with C. Russell Price - StoryStudio Chicago. StoryStudio Chicago. 6:30-8:30 p.m. This space’s goal is to foster community amongst poets, and to encourage development as poets of all experience levels—all while sharing some delicious pastries.I t’s an in-person class.
April 13: Poetry Month at Cliff Dwellers. Cliff Dwellers (200 S. Michigan Ave., 22nd Floor). Cash bar at 5 p.m.; dinner at 6 p.m.; program at 7:15 p.m. Elise Paschen and Kathleen Rooney, and Naoko Fujimoto read and discuss their poetry. In addition, the Club will mount a modest exhibit of Wherever I’m At visual artists that includes works by Mary Livoni and Chuck Walker. Dinner & program: $50. Program only (limited seating): $20. RSVP before April 11 by phone at 312-922-8080, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
April 13: World Of Wordplay is back again to present the 2nd Annual National Poetry Month Celebration. The Promontory Chicago (5311 S. Lake Park Ave. W). Doors open at six p.m. and the event ends at nine p.m. The $15 advance ticket purchase is available through Eventbrite. Open mic artists and audience attendees equally welcome.
April 14: An Evening of Poetry at Haymarket House (800 W. Buena Ave.). 6:30-8 p.m. An evening of poetry featuring Gabrielle Bates, Natalie Eilbert, Patrycja Humienik, and I.S. Jones at Haymarket House. 6:30-8 p.m.
April 15: Poetic Art Expression II. Pose Cultural Art Gallery (2136 W. Chicago Avenue). 3-5 p.m. Explores the intersections between art, history and community. An artist display of new work from local artists and an invitation for them to perform live poetry readings that explore their work at the show. Refreshments and entertainment. General admission: $8.
April 15: Ruben Quesada "Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry." Book Cellar (2736 N. Lincoln Ave.), 4:30 p.m. Ruben Quesada will be in store at the Book Cellar to celebrate his new book, Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry. Also readings by authors
Jordi Alonso, Adela Najarro, Francisco Aragon, Gustavo Baharona-López, and Carlo Matos. RSVP recommended.
April 15: Seeing the Space Between Us: An Evening with Diana Solis & Friends, Pilsen Community Books (1102 W. 18th Street), 7 p.m. Chicago icon Diana Solís will be joined by an intergenerational group of Latinx artists and writers, including Olivia Maciel, Flor Flores, Maya Piña, and Melissa Castro Almandina. for readings and a conversation about the past/present/future of Spanish language poetry in Chicago. The event, sponsored by Guild Literary Complex in partnership with Contratiempo, will also celebrate Solís’ recently released photography book, Luz: Seeing The Space Between Us.
April 19: Blue Hour. Haymarket House (800 W. Buena). Workshop (registration required) begins promptly at 6 p.m., ends at 7 p.m.; open mic sign-up begins at 7:15; reading (registration recommended) begins at 7:30, followed by community gathering. The Chicago Poetry Center presents their free, public monthly in-person reading series and generative writing workshop. Includes a brief lottery-style open mic and two featured readers, preceded by a generative writing workshop. All readings are also livestreamed! This month’s stellar featured readers: Maya Pindyck and Julian Randall. Reading registration is free; the workshop is sliding scale with a suggested donation of $10. Get your ticket for the reading here.
April 20: Poetry off the Shelf: Renee Gladman, Eileen Myles & Simone White. The Poetry Foundation (61 W. Superior St.). 7-8:30 p.m. A reading and conversation with Renee Gladman, Eileen Myles, and Simone White, celebrating their new book releases. In-person reading with livestream.
April 20: Dina Elenbogen and Dipika Mukerjee reading from Shore. Seminary Co-Op Bookstore (5751 S. Woodlawn Ave.). Starts at 6 p.m. Register in advance.
April 20: Independence Poetry. Independence Branch, Chicago Public Library (4024 N. Elston Ave.), 6-8 p.m. Carlos Cumpian will emcee a reading centered around the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame's poetry anthology. Cynthia Gallaher, Yolanda Nieves, Raúl Niño, Paul Martínez Pompa, Mike Puican and Vincent Romero will read poems before engaging in a discussion with Carlos.
April 21: CINDERELLA BLACKBIRD. Poems, Stories & Songs in Memory of Lin Brehmer, Performed by Tony Fitzpatrick & Jon Langford. The Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia Ave.). A conversation with Lin Brehmer that started over 20 years ago continues today in the form of “Cinderella Blackbird,” an unfolding series of collages, poetry, songs and stories. Join Tony Fitzpatrick and Jon Langford as they bring “Cinderella Blackbird” to the stage for a unique performance in memory of Lin Brehmer, a man who shared their love of music, literature and art; a man with the heart of a playwright and the soul of a poet; a carefree spirit whose deep appreciation for wordplay brought transcendence to the airwaves of Chicago; a man who reminded us that it’s great to be alive.
April 22: RHINO Reads!. Sketchbook Brewing Company (821 Chicago Avenue, Evanston), starting at 3 p.m. An in-person reading with acclaimed RHINO poets Katie Hartsock and Dara Yen Elerath. There will be a brief Q&A, followed by an open mic for attendees. Registrations for the open mic must be done at the event, and space is limited.
April 22: Poetry & Paint Encore (Session 1 of 4): The Kulture Museum (629 W. Cermak Road). Five chosen Chicago artists headline this is four-session series curated to welcome conscious, enlightened, and aligned individuals who are exploring unique avenues of art, culture, and connection. Through spoken word, live music, and artistic expression this showcase endeavors to unlock authentic potential by connecting like-minded individuals in creative and entrepreneurial industries. Tickets are $20.
April 23: CINDERELLA BLACKBIRD: Poems, Stories & Songs in Memory of Lin Brehmer, Performed by Tony Fitzpatrick & Jon Langford. The Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia Ave.). A second chance to see this performance in honor of Lin Brehmer.
April 24: Poetry Workshop and Open Mic hosted by Audacious Don. Legler Regional Library (115 South Pulaski Road). 4-7:30 p.m. Spoken word artist and self-published author Audacious Don will lead this monthly poetry workshop. February's theme is Bring Your Cup: Building Creative Writing Skills Around Self Care. Poetry Workshop begins at 4pm ; Open Mic begins at 5:30pm. In partnership with Artist-In-Residence Alexandra Antoine.
April 26: Sampling the Greats: Learning Golden Shovel Poetry Technique. Sherman Park (5440 S. Racine Ave.). 5-7 p.m. Open to anybody 13 and up. Much like current artists "sample" (borrow) pieces from older musicians to make their work feel familiar yet new, contemporary poets can use the “Golden Shovel” technique to pay homage to their predecessors and transform their words into a new creation. Participants will learn the history of this poetry form, create their own Golden Shovel, and gain resources for further exploration. Session leader Chirskira Caillouet authored Honey Licorice and has earned the Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Awards semi-finalist distinction multiple times.
April 27: Adjacent: Oak Park’s Place in the Chicago Poetic Landscape. Oak Park Public Library (834 Lake St., Oak Park), 6:30-8 p.m. Reading and iscussion about Oak Park and the poetic arts. Patricia McMillen and Al DeGenova will each read some poems before joining Wherever I'm At editor Donald G. Evans in the discussion. Registration is now open.
April 27: Staff & Friends Reading: Adrian Matejka, Maggie Queeney, Charif Shanahan & Patricia Smith. Poetry Foundation (61 W. Superior St.), starting at 7 p.m. A reading to celebrate new book releases by Poetry Foundation staff and friends: Adrian Matejka, Maggie Queeney, Charif Shanahan, and Patricia Smith.
April 28: Open Mic Night. Afriware Books (1701 1st Avenue, Suite 400, Maywood, IL 60153), doors open at 5:45 p.m. A Poetry Month and Independent Bookstore Day reading featuring Markell Mooney. Tickets/donation of $5, but free for poets. Free parking.
April 28: Artists Event: Music, Poetry & Storytelling. 2015 S. Laflin Street, 7-10:30 p.m. Live event featuring a curated set of musicians, poets and storytellers. Come enjoy drinks and performances in an art gallery setting.
April 29: Chicago Public Library’s 24th Annual Poetry Fest. At the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium (400 S. State St.) and other spaces in the Harold Washington Library Center. All day from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. This festival of poetry readings, workshops and exhibitors will culminate with the debut performance of Chicago’s first poet laureate, which will be announced earlier in the month.
April 29: After Hours Press Reading at Poetry Fest. Harold Washington Library (400 S. State St.), Noon-1 p.m. The reading will celebrate the release of the new issue of After Hours magazine, Issue #45, as well as Wherever I'm At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry. Featured poets will be Marvin Tate, Viola Lee, Nina Corwin, and Patrick Reardon. All have been included in either the anthology or the magazine. The event is free and open to the public.