City Cast

3 Questions With Chicago’s Poet Laureate

City Cast Chicago staff
City Cast Chicago staff
Posted on September 5
Chicago Poet Laureate avery r. young at the Poetry Foundation in River North

Chicago Poet Laureate avery r. young at the Poetry Foundation in River North. (Patrick Pyszka / City of Chicago)

Poet laureates from the Chicago area and across the country will be celebrated at Harold Washington Library Thursday — including avery r. young, the city’s inaugural poet laureate. The Austin native sat down with the City Cast Chicago podcast earlier this year to share his background and dish on the city’s poetry scene.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How does Austin and your Chicago experience show up in your work?

“There's so much that I absorbed as a young person growing up — walking on the avenue where there's a liquor store, a storefront church, the tavern, another church, the restaurant that's bumping GCI, and coming home to Millie and Mahalia Jackson playing upstairs and the other one playing downstairs. How can I not go through these streets of the city and not absorb all that stuff? … There's things that happen in Chicago that give Chicagoans a certain language.”

What do you think makes Chicago’s poetry scene so unique?

“When you live in a city like Chicago that is a hub for blues and gospel and hip-hop and dance and all of this vibrant culture … the streets spill poems or poetry every day. The poetry of the city is a linking community."

Where can new Chicago poets go to share their work?

“The library or a bookstore. Read first. Find out what you like, who you like, what poetry resonates with you, and then begin to do what moves that type of work forward. When you get into a poetry venue, present that work like you really, really care. And anybody that's listening should really, really care enough to listen to what you gotta say.”

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