Clouds have parted for poetry in Chicago

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Poetry, like Carl Sandburg’s fog, has been coming on little cat feet into Chicago – but to stay, not to move on.

Just one example: On Tuesday night at the Cliff Dwellers Club on South Michigan Avenue across from the Art Institute of Chicago, three students from Joliet West High School performed a work titled “Undecided” – not just for the usual assemblage of writers and book lovers but also for an enthusiastic crowd of other Joliet West students who made the trek to the Loop for a poetry reading and the Cliff Dwellers’ famous view over Grant Park. (For one student, it was her first trip to Chicago.)

The student poets were recreating their performance as a youth slam team in the 10-year-old “Louder than a Bomb” competition. Just as Chicago is home to the poetry slam, which has become a worldwide phenomenon, the city also is home to Louder than a Bomb, now the world’s largest youth slam.

This year, teams from 65 area high schools competed. Chicago poet Kevin Coval is the co-founder and artistic director. The slam also is the subject of a documentary of the same name by Chicago-based filmmakers Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs, who won the audience choice award for best film at the 34th annual Cleveland Film Festival.

Besides performing Tuesday night, the students listened to readings by established poets Rosina Neginsky and Marty McConnell.

“What I want is who I am and who I am is undecided,” the students read, with decided conviction. ” … Will my aspirations sink to the size of a Post-It note on my cubicle?”

After watching their performance, somehow that doesn’t seem likely.

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