The Spirit of Austin?

I'm wondering what the poem below captures of the true, unseen spirit of troubled Chicago neighborhoods like Austin, Chicago's largest neighborhood - and one of its most violent. It was written some years ago by a Freshman at Marshall High School, Shannon Phillips:
Shannon Phillips, a young Emily Dickinson
I'm an English teacher. The poem below, I tell my students, is precisely the kind of poem that Emily Dickinson might have written when she was 16. Its revolutionary insight, expressed flat out in its last three lines, goes far towards explaining why real literary genius is so often suppressed in its own time.

Shannon Phillips wrote this poem about poetic liberation - actually, about liberation obstructed by fear of liberation - on a piece of scrap paper during a meeting to create a school newspaper at Marshall High. It that would have been tossed out with a pile of unwanted papers had I not spotted it on the way to the wastebasket. (At the time I was working with The Austin Voice to help students create this newspaper. Shannon was one of 15 interested students who met that day. Her hard work, and that of thirty other Marshall students, paid off handsomely. The full newspaper can be downloaded here.)

OK, so Marshall High isn't located in Austin. But I know Austin well enough to say that among its 98,000 residents, there are several hundred kids who, like Shannon, have put their feelings and mind talk on paper for years. It's a way, among other things, of coping with the rough world around them. What's more, there are thousands of Austin residents of all ages who can fully understand the powerful logic of its last three lines - or could with a little help.

Want to go deep into this poem? Just ask yourself what is concrete? In Shannon's mind - writing poems came as naturally to her as breathing does to human beings - what did she mean by seeing through concrete? That's impossible, right? Or is it?

That said, concrete, and the act of seeing through it, will always mean different things to different readers. Shannon makes it clear that this uniqueness - her sense, you might say, of different strokes for different folks - goes hand in hand with reading any poem, of being "anything you want to be". 


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