Kevin is the Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, the group responsible for the country’s largest youth poetry slam, Louder Than A Bomb. YCA teaches year-round free writing workshops every Saturday afternoon in the Wicker Park neighborhood. He invited all of us to the workshop, saying, “We need you.”
And so the next Saturday I climbed to the 2nd floor high-ceilinged room of bare brick walls and planked floors on Milwaukee Avenue. Twenty chairs were arranged in a circle in the middle of the room and loose, unlined sheets of paper and pencils were in a box in the middle of the circle. This is not just organization, it’s respect.
Poet-teacher Jose Guadalupe Oliverez sat on a chair in the circle and as people emerged from the staircase, he motioned to them to join him. He asked us to state our first names, age and our high schools. A group of 16-year-olds from Crane High School and their spoken-word coach, a 19 year old poet from Calumet City, a 16 year old Lincoln Parker home from boarding school and a 20 year old jewelry maker made up the group. I apologized, “I’m Regan and I’m old. Thank you for letting me sit in.” Jose prompted us to write lists, reading various poems for inspiration about truth and lying. He gave us 8 minutes to write. At the end, each of us recited one poem.
I get on the bus
See a cohort
Where you goin?
To the March at Trump.
You go girl, he says
thinking I’m alive in pursuit of justice
Am I? I dress for the day
with buttons and banners
Tell others I’ll see you there!
Notify on Twitter and FaceBook
Then go downtown and what?
I tell others it works
to be in the number, to yell
This is What Democracy Looks Like
I write letters, make calls, send emails
Proclaiming the what and why
but then in silent spaces
Does my voice matter?
I tell others theirs does, mine does.
Will it get better?
Am I acting, lying?
What about the rest of ‘em?
Are we all just hoping, acting, lying?
Hot and weak at the bus stop, I flattened out over the racist angst expressed in the writings of the young poets. A woman in a McDonald’s uniform came along complaining over and over, “Where the fuck is the bus?” She refrained from the question long enough to ask if I had been to the new Division Street Target and before I answered, she added, “I can’t go there. They tore down my home to build it.”
Kevin Coval is an accomplished poet, teacher, activist, chronicler of street artists and community organizer. As far as I’m concerned, however, his two biggest accomplishments are 1) he got me to write truth I hadn’t yet known, and 2) he showed me the Chicago I hadn’t yet seen.
Regan Burke writes memoirs and personal essays from her hometown, Chicago, in episodes—like someone weaned on television serial dramas. Her work has appeared in Christian Science Monitor, Safe 'n Sound, Easter Seals Blog and Writing Out Loud. She has a 250-page memoir, I Want To Be In That Number, at a publisher, to be released early 2020, about having nervous breakdowns working in politics.