The Heart of Chicago

Students explore the heart of Chicago through poetry and prose.
I came to feel that to find the heart of Chicago, one must be able to be everywhere at once..."...

In conjunction with the Smart Museum's "Heartland" exhibition, the Committee on Creative Writing, the Chicago Studies Program, and the College sponsored a writing contest, challenging students to explore their city through poetry and prose.

On January 14, the contest winnersincluding one of our very own New Media Editors, Jim Santelgathered at the Smart Museum to read from their winning entries, which we have excerpted below.

Congratulations to all the contest winners!

-Susie Allen

Pudgy's Pizza is the kind of place with a yellowing tin ceiling and walls covered in pictures of Little League teams, some over a decade old, each thanking Pudgy for his sponsorship. It's an intimate place—it has only one table—and when we opened the door, we were greeted as if we'd walked into somebody's kitchen, which I suppose we had. We asked our host what he'd recommend, and what we got was the "Bob's Mistake." We were intrigued. The mistake, if you can call it that, is combining sausage, garlic, fresh tomatoes, and red and green peppers, and Bob, well, is Pudgy before he became Pudgy. Our host has been in the pizza business over thirty years now, and while he now looks the part, he wasn't the first Pudgy—he inherited the name from his predecessor. He made his first pizza in Vietnam, and coming home he found a job in the steel mills, like everybody else. But he wasn't made for steelmaking, it seems, and not long after coming back he took up delivering pizzas, worked his way up to owning the place, and works there still today, while the steel mills are shuttered or scrapped. He makes a mean pizza.

-Michael Carwile, Class of 2011, from "The Second Windy City of Big Shoulders That Works In a Garden"

Whatever the cause, it's difficult to comprehend that one is seeing from the outside what one experiences so totally from within. The Michigan Avenue bridge, the Marina towers, the late-afternoon autumn shadows that stretch between the buildings—can these all be contained in that great totality seen from without? And when one is in the Loop, it's equally difficult to understand that a quiet neighborhood like Hyde Park can exist in the same city as this roiling downtown. I came to feel that to find the heart of Chicago, one must be able to be everywhere at once, to be simultaneously on a silent corner of Lincoln Park as a mother pushes a stroller by; on Michigan Avenue watching crowds crane their necks at the Tribune Tower; and on an El as it races through the decrepit South Side.

-Jim Santel, Class of 2012, from "North To Chicago"

Lickin' chicken
The chicken fryer
did well to preserve
its chicken sanctity
did well to protect
its lickin' goodness
with a holy guard
—the crumbly
scrumptious army
of chicken skinfry—
Succumb I

to its Highness
and ever so gently
nay reverently as for
the gods of Hellas
I break through
the skinfry front
with tongue poised
lovingly to undress it
in one slow sweep
my enamel enamored
of lickin' chicken

-Sol Lee, Class of 2011, from "When Harold's"

It doesn't matter which block you turn down.
The wind either follows you or blows from all directions
at once. We built this city to live
where it is too cold to live. The cold
is no New England cold, which hangs
crystalline in the deep green air. The city reels

with its own cold, a chemical cold,
cold that reaches forceps down the throat
and twists shut the windpipe. That is why
our bookstores build bonfires. That is why we bite
back. The grit, the tar drips. The nicotine
glues the pavement together.

-Sasha Geffen, Class of 2011, from "Cyclists Pursue the Horizon"

One year later: stars are scarce. And I'm just
beginning to understand the way night
feels without their reminders. My shy skin
flinches still when jostled wayward by some
stranger crossing the street, eyes like sky steel.
None of anything here is familiar

yet, excepting blessedly familiar
acts of understanding...

-Matthew Lemoyne, Class of 2010, from "Night Move (Chicago Song)"

Tagged: Creative Writing, Smart Museum, Heart of Chicago