I had avoided studying literature formally because the books I was assigned usually frustrated and bored me. The stories felt cold. I desperately wanted to believe that reading and by extension, writing, could still be fun, transcendent, holy—the way it was for me outside of school. Stuart surprised me when he told us on the first day of class that writing was about memory—making memories matter in the present. Writing, description in particular, was a matter of translating personal obsessions into words. When you write you explore your own mind, a process that is largely intuitive and unconscious.

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If so, there would only be one choice: Stuart Dybek, Chicago poet and storyteller. The idea was for a poet to reflect on art, and the art that had influenced him, and its relation to words and language. He writes about a period in his life when he was looking for a job and had countless job interviews. The paintings themselves appeared to throw an internal light the way oaks and maples seem aflame in fall, from the inside out. I wanted to be somewhere else, to be a dark blur waiting to board the Normandy train in the smoke-smudged Saint-Lazare station; I wanted a ticket out of my life, to be riding a train whose windows slid past a landscape of grain stacks in winter fields.

I know I did. Image courtesy Art Institute of Chicago. What did it remind us of, Dybek asked? He read a poem by W. Here Dybek finally read one of his own poems, written while he lived in the Caribbean long before he had seen the Richter painting, He reads about walking down a staircase to the water, very much as we see in the Richter scene.

The Richter painting reminded Dybek of Max Richter, a post-minimalist composer who has also composed many film soundtracks. I always write to music, he said. I thought perhaps he would be reading from his own books of poetry, Streets in Their Own Ink or Brass Knuckles , so I brought along my own copies.

He signed my copy of Streets. Here are some delicious visual and aural excerpts from a few of my favorite Dybek poems.


The Coast of Chicago Discussion Questions

Jun 07, Vit Babenco rated it really liked it The stories Chopin in Winter and Blight are magnificent and they reminded me of Jack Kerouac There seemed to be some unspoken relationship between being nameless and being a loser. Watching the guys from Korea after their ball games as they hung around under the buzzing neon signs of their taverns, guzzling beers and flipping the softball, I got the strange feeling that they had actually chosen anonymity and the loserhood that went with it. It was something they looked for in one another, that held them together. The rest is pretty good. That was poetry.


Stuart Dybek Reads Poetry Amongst the Art

The daughter of the landlady of the building the boy lives in, Marcy, is the first of her family to go to college—the first even to finish high school. But now she is pregnant and making the decision to be done with school. She had been studying music in college and she still practices on the piano now, living at home again. Dzia-Dzia recognizes that sometimes Marcy plays "boogie-woogie" music, and he speculates aloud that the father of her child is black.

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