Public Poetry: Two Readings at the Poetry Foundation

I should go to more poetry readings. This is my yearly mantra during National Poetry Month. Actually, I should go to more poetry readings, not just during National Poetry Month, but all year. Thankfully, the Poetry Foundation right here in Chicago can fulfill that need, so my mantra is less guilt-laden. I walk past the wonderfully situated building near my office daily. Even the architecture is quite poetic. The Poetry Foundation not only houses the offices of the renowned Poetry Magazine, but also maintains a large and very beautiful library of poetry, open to the public. This is a pilgrimage worthy of any bibliophile and poet, and as I am both, I attended two readings there last week.

The Poetry Foundation building. So pretty!

The Poetry Foundation building. So pretty!

On Tuesday, I went to the most recent installment of the foundation’s Open Door Reading Series, intended to give “established and emerging poets” the chance to read their poetry to a welcoming audience. The reading brought me back to memories of informal readings outside the university-bound poetry workshop. The poetry itself—from Brianna Noll, Cristina Pugh, Benjamin Williams, and David Trinidad—was honest and rich with imagery that ranged from ancient myths, the natural environment, the psychology of serial killers, and memories of poet mentors. Discussions of each poet’s creative process in between only highlighted to the enjoyment of the spoken word.

Nagata Kazuhiro, poet

Nagata Kazuhiro, poet and biologist.

Going to a poetry reading with just one poet is a real treat, and getting to know a poet from another part of the world who practices one of the oldest poetic forms in recorded history is a special privilege. Nagata Kazuhiro checks both of these boxes: he’s a renowned molecular and cellular biologist and an equally reputable Tanka poet. At the reading I attended on Friday, he detailed the strict syllabic form and its importance in Japanese culture. He then shared, with great openness, some of the poems he and his late wife, the Tanka poet Kawano Yūko, had exchanged over 40 years of marriage. The ability to say so much with so very little was very moving.

Both of these readings showed how encouraging it is to see the rewards brought to people who choose to sit down in a public space and listen to what has been written with so much intention—and they were just a small sample of the events the Poetry Foundation holds almost every week. If you don’t live here and can’t make it on your next visit to Chicago, you can always check out the foundation’s podcast, Poetry Off the Shelf.

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About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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