To My Son: Chicago

“I hate poetry, it’s stupid,” my son states daily. “No, no! Poetry teaches you about life, man’s emotions, and writing, it is beautiful,” I defend. “It’s stupid!” He proclaims again. My dream is that someday he will see and understand the power of word and how it can rule the world, bring down a nation, break a man’s heart, lift one’s spirit, describe the tiniest of detail, and drive a point home.

The Chicago History Museum hosts the most informative Architectural Boat Tours in the city of Chicago. It is a beautiful tour given by docents who are learned in giving in depth details including names, dates, architectural styles, and more about Chicago’s buildings and her architects. I was pleased with these facts, and even more pleased when my docent listed books for us to read, including Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. But there was one moment while in the lock when the captain of the boat turned the bow back to face the city, and the docent, with raised hands, belted out “Chicago” by Carl Sandberg, bringing some to tears, most to cheers, and all to burn.

by Carl Sandburg

HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

To my son, I give you this poem, that some day you will understand the gifts and power in Words…

Notes on the Art of Poetry
by Dylan Marlais Thomas

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

Day 19- The Art of Wearing Your Fat Dreams. What dreams do you share?


  1. Anonymous
    Posted October 19, 2011 at 12:41 PM | Permalink

    I am with Dryden! I hate poetry-at least I hated it in school because I was never good at writing it. I sighed when my 8 year old came home with 2 large poetry books this week and wanted me to sit and listen! Maybe she will reintroduce it to me and I will like it now.
    Joyce K.

  2. Biz
    Posted October 19, 2011 at 12:55 PM | Permalink

    How is it that I've never heard of that Chicago poem before?? Stunning!

    Hopefully your son will appreciate the power of words. 😀

  3. slip4
    Posted October 19, 2011 at 1:40 PM | Permalink

    I just got back from Chicago and we took that boat tour – fascinating! And I also recommend Devil in the White City. I read it a few years ago and loved it. I have never liked poetry but I did enjoy the Chicago poem..

  4. Mandy All
    Posted October 19, 2011 at 2:07 PM | Permalink

    Here is one of my favorite poems about poetry (Why I am Not a Painter, by Frank O'Hara):

  5. Robin Sue
    Posted October 19, 2011 at 2:24 PM | Permalink

    Mandy All- brilliant. Thank you.

    Why I Am Not a Painter
    by Frank O'Hara

    I am not a painter, I am a poet.
    Why? I think I would rather be
    a painter, but I am not. Well,

    for instance, Mike Goldberg
    is starting a painting. I drop in.
    "Sit down and have a drink" he
    says. I drink; we drink. I look
    up. "You have SARDINES in it."
    "Yes, it needed something there."
    "Oh." I go and the days go by
    and I drop in again. The painting
    is going on, and I go, and the days
    go by. I drop in. The painting is
    finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
    All that's left is just
    letters, "It was too much," Mike says.

    But me? One day I am thinking of
    a color: orange. I write a line
    about orange. Pretty soon it is a
    whole page of words, not lines.
    Then another page. There should be
    so much more, not of orange, of
    words, of how terrible orange is
    and life. Days go by. It is even in
    prose, I am a real poet. My poem
    is finished and I haven't mentioned
    orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
    it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
    I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.

  6. StephanieSells
    Posted October 19, 2011 at 4:11 PM | Permalink

    Best entry to poetry…Shel Silverstein!

  7. Anonymous
    Posted October 23, 2011 at 10:20 PM | Permalink

    I can see the man your son will someday be. I hope that he grows into your love for beautiful words. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful site with us. I am enjoying it!

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