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 winners—including one of our very own New Media Editors, Jim Santel—gathered at the Smart Museum to read from their winning entries, which we have excerpted below.
Congratulations to all the contest winners!
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' chickenThe chicken fryerdid well to preserveits chicken sanctitydid well to protectits lickin' goodnesswith a holy guard—the crumblyscrumptious armyof chicken skinfry—Succumb I
to its Highnessand ever so gentlynay reverently as forthe gods of HellasI break throughthe skinfry frontwith tongue poisedlovingly to undress itin one slow sweepmy enamel enamoredof 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 directionsat once. We built this city to livewhere it is too cold to live. The coldis no New England cold, which hangscrystalline in the deep green air. The city reels
with its own cold, a chemical cold,cold that reaches forceps down the throatand twists shut the windpipe. That is whyour bookstores build bonfires. That is why we biteback. The grit, the tar drips. The nicotineglues the pavement together.
-Sasha Geffen, Class of 2011, from "Cyclists Pursue the Horizon"
One year later: stars are scarce. And I'm justbeginning to understand the way nightfeels without their reminders. My shy skinflinches still when jostled wayward by somestranger crossing the street, eyes like sky steel.None of anything here is familiar
yet, excepting blessedly familiaracts of understanding...
-Matthew Lemoyne, Class of 2010, from "Night Move (Chicago Song)"