Skip to main content

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". 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Towards a Non-Partisan, Issue-Centered, Outcome-Oriented Political Discourse System for America

[The body of this piece was uploaded on election eve before the outcome began to take shape. Trump's name was added next day. It could have been Clinton's - makes no difference!]

Finally it’s over. The presidential election of 2016 is history. Big sigh of relief. But not for long, because voter disgust with both candidates is so widespread that the aftermath of the election may be as tumultuous as the run-up to it.

That said, America on November 9 will have at least a brief moment to pause and reflect on what’s gone so horrendously wrong with our rigged and money-driven system of political discourse and then ask how (and if) what’s broken can be fixed.

It's amazing that no one is asking this question. No one. Obsessed with partisan concerns, the shrewdest political heads in America have lost sight of both the cause and the remedy for our political ills. 

So it's time to pull our heads out of the sand, ask this critical question, answer it correctly, and then find w…
(Revised October 10, 2016) How many of Chicago's 2.7 million residents have ever heard of Strengthening Chicago's Youth (SCY)? Perhaps 100,000 at most. That's a big number, but its small when you realize that it's also telling us that only one out every 27 Chicagoans has heard of SCY. If you're among that huge number, you have heard of Lurie Children's Hospital, SCY's parent organization. So why is SCY important? In recent years its small but energetic staff has convened hundreds of government, community and non-profit organizations in an ongoing series of quarterly meetings that have done more to advance citywide understanding and solutions to Chicago's violence problem than any other actual or virtual platform I can think of.
Today, for instance, SCY will host a three-hour meeting on the following topic:






Looking at this topic, I wondered when Chicago will get around to talking about Citywide lessons to be learned about Sharing Data for Violence Pre…

The Lincoln Scenario: How Rauner and Madigan Finally Ended their War for Illinois and United Illinois' "House Divided"

August 30 The updated, extended version of this piece is here at our Medium site. Author's note: So is necessity really the mother of invention? If it is, here's a look at how close Illinois is today to a workable alternative to the politics of self-destruction that's fueling the fratricidal "War For Illinois". So far, three experts and two State Reps have commended this piece. Like it? Please help advance it. See how, below. Here's a Printable Copy. By mid-summer of 2015, a grinding yearlong power struggle between governor Rauner and House speaker Madigan had gridlocked into trench warfare. Mounting losses in precious time, energy, resources, services and money were bankrupting Illinois and destroying public faith and trust in government itself.

It became clear that for whoever won this contest, victory would be pyrrhic. The Land of Lincoln, in Lincoln's famous biblical phrase, would be "a house divided against itself": a state too polarized and…