Many of us in the Chicago Poetry Scene were shocked to see the puzzling photos that were taken just one month ago of a half finished Home for Poetry in dire need of completion. Some of us wondered whether or not the Poetry Foundation's new multi-million dollar building at 61 W. Superior would even be finished in time for their big Grand Opening scheduled for this weekend.
Well, I had the liberty to attend several hours of Poetry Magazine's big affair and I was amazed to find that they pulled it off like a rabbit out of a hat. Chicago's new "Home For Poetry" is, for the most part, completed and in operation. Here are some updated images, taken from inside the Poetry House.
As you enter the Home for Poetry, what better sight to see than trees, considering Poetry Magazine first published that Joyce Kilmer poem that we all learned in grade school.
This next photo looks exactly like one of the digitally created image that the Poetry Foundation released a year ago in order to give us an idea of what the new Home for Poetry was going to look like. I took this photo today. It's the real deal. Kind of freaky, eh?
When the Poetry Foundation was talking about having a home for their archive of thousands of poetry titles, I imagined something locked up in a vault, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this gigantic library of poetry titles, the first thing you see upon entering the building as a matter of fact, along with tables and chairs so that you can sit and read them. The first level of the library consists of books by individual author, assorted in alphabetical order by last name; and the second level, which won't be completed until September and which appears a bit daunting, contains anthologies of poetry by various artists.
Around every corner there is a surprise to be found in the Home for Poetry, whether it be a poem on the wall or a computer to use in search of poetry.
I believe this wall of fame contains photos of poets who have appeared within the pages of Poetry Magazine or who are otherwise somehow associated with the publication. I noticed there's an illustration on the wall describing what this collage is, but with all the festivities that were going on, I didn't get a chance to take a close look at it, so that'll have to be something I do upon my next visit.
What I found most interesting about the architecture of the Home for Poetry is that every time I turned around I noticed a new opening into the next space, whether it be a hole in the wall from a staircase looking in upon the library, or the view of high-rises through the windows, or a skylight to the clouds, or a wide slit in the ceiling looking upon the second floor--it's as if this building was designed to symbolize the many vantage points of that voyeuristic art form that we call poetry.
People began lining up for the big poetry panel discussion at about 11:30 AM on Sunday, June 26. It became immediately clear that not everyone who reserved a free ticket for the event actually showed up, which is a shame because a lot of people probably didn't attend because they were under the impression that all the events were sold out. I hope none of you who I encouraged to reserve tickets blew it off. Fortunately, the Poetry Foundation decided to open the doors to those without tickets as well, so the room started filling up fast. Considering this particular event was happening on a warm, sunny Sunday morning, when the Pride Parade was happening a few miles away, I found the attendance to be quite impressive.
The performance space accommodates about 150 chairs. Two of the walls of the space are transparent, so you can see people walking around outside, some of whom stop and try to look through the windows because I guess the outside view is tinted. This is a bit of a distraction and takes a bit of getting used to. I felt for a while like I was in a big aquarium, but as the poets began speaking and reading I soon got used to this unique space. It's sort of like attending an outdoor poetry festival except the room is sound proof, so there's visual stimulation but no audible distractions.
Someone must have waved that magic wand again because, poof, what is likely to be the most high caliber poetry panel I am ever likely to see suddenly appeared, including no less than three poet laureates on the same stage.
Robert Hass, Kay Ryan, Billy Collins, Elizabeth Alexander, Edward Hirsch and Sandra Cisneros talked for an hour and a half with Jeffrey Brown of the PBS NewsHour and audience members were encouraged to ask questions.
Sandra Cisneros argued for a more personal, biographical style of poetry concerned with social issues, a style that speaks the truth. Robert Haas (not shown here) agreed that it should be the job of poets to speak the truth during times such as these, in which we are fed war propaganda on a daily basis, although he admitted that political poetry usually isn't the best poetry. Edward Hirsch (on the left) talked about growing up as a poet in Skokie and feeling all alone because there wasn't anything like the Home for Poetry back then where poets could meet each other.
Kay Ryan spoke about being a California poet and about keeping things in her life consistently the same because that somehow gives her the power to change things at will in her poetry.
Elizabeth Alexander described how writing the poem for Obama's inauguration was the hardest thing she had ever done in her life, and Billy Collins defended the voice of his poetry, describing it as a persona detached from emotion and absent of a past.
I stuck around after the panel discussion to hear a solo reading by Sandra Cisneros, who decided to use most of her time reading poems written by other Chicago poets, including Raul Nino, Cynthia Gallaher and Carlos Cumpian.
Well, I gotta say, the Poetry Foundation's new Home for Poetry is certainly a spectacular new venue. If you missed the Grand Opening, I'm sure there will be other opportunities to see poetry events there, or you can just stop on in and read a book.
Rest assured I'll keep on top of these guys to make sure their poetry programming remains diverse and eclectic.
Yours in Poetry,
PS, I was going to take some photos of the wonderful bathrooms since I previously posted photos showing them in their unfinished state, but, well, you know, there were people in them and, that would have been odd, even for me. ;<))
Note: The Poetry Foundation pulls it off. Here's the scoop!