The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Get Lit at Your Desk: Chicago Poetry Tour and Podcast

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 21, 2010 8:50PM

The Chicago Poetry Tour, produced by the Poetry Foundation, is a chance to explore the history of the city through poetry
We don’t read as often as we should. With such a short window of warm sunny days, we’d rather spend the time with friends outside. And those pesky desk jobs seem to cut into our reading time, too. Ironically, work is where we seem to have the most available free time. If only we could whip out a book instead of waste all that time mindlessly scrolling through Tweets and our Google Reader subscriptions, we’d have so many more intelligent things to add to happy hour conversations. To solve this problem, Get Lit at Your Desk explores some online literature that’s right here in Chicago.

The Chicago Poetry Tour, available on the Poetry Foundation website, is a free multimedia tour of poetry written in and about Chicago. Weekend Edition’s Scott Simon narrates listeners through Chicago’s literary history via archived recordings of poets, contemporary recordings of scholars, music, and photos. The tour has 22 stops across Chicago, starting at the Chicago Cultural Center, and extending as far North as New Chinatown and as far south as the DuSable Museum of African American History. Along the way, you can stop at iconic Chicago landmarks such as the El (“If you’re a poet in Chicago, you gotta have an El train poem,” says slam poetry founder Marc Smith), the Art Institute, and the Union Stock Yard Gate (where the stock yards inspired Carl Sandburg's famous Chicago epithet “Hog Butcher for the World”).

We haven’t followed the whole tour because our day jobs beckon, but we were seriously impressed with what we did see and hear. Mark Smith’s reading Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” was so powerful that we needed to wait a few minutes for the goose bumps to disappear before we could listen again. “The sound of the El is the sound of the city,” says professor of Chicago literature, Bill Savage, in another part of the tour. This portion integrates the El’s history with only-a-Chicagoan-can-understand poems about the experience of riding it.

And for those who don’t have the whole day to spend following a virtual poetry tour of Chicago, we recommend the Chicago Poetry Tour Podcast. Every two weeks, the podcast dedicates five or six minutes exploring one particular location crucial to Chicago’s poetic past. We really didn’t know very much at all about how poetry developed in Chicago until we started listened to the Chicago Poetry Tour Podcast. And now we’re becoming somewhat of Chicago poetry aficionados - all without leaving our desks.