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.

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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. Good stuff. Really good stuff. And so picking up this collection of stories about my favorite city, Chicago, and Dybeks hometown, too, I knew I would be in for a street wise treat.

Oh yeah. Fourteen stories, and if you know anything about Dybek at all, you will know he is surrounded by awards and an otherwise impressive publishing history, so no need to go there. And so, indeed, it resonated with me.

Dybek, like me, comes from a richly ethnic background. In his case, he is a second-generation Polish-American, growing up in Chicago neighborhoods, southern side of that great city. Here, too. Quite a few of these stories intertwine music. The collection is an interesting mix of traditional sandwiched with flash fiction.

Poetry in prose, nearly. What is surprise to others is old blood to the maestro. It rides a glass streetcar that showers blue, electric sparks along the ghost of a track—a track paved over in childhood—the line that she and her mother used to take downtown. He has the pigeons up past their bedtime doing the mambo. The smells are here, the tastes, the mix of languages, the music, the blend of humanity. Here the city kids and the first generation immigrants, the junkies and winos and ex-cons and their corrupt cops.

Here, too, are stories about nothing, just the sense of being there, and so, stories about everything you need to know to share the experience. Dybek is a master of language, whatever medium he chooses—poetry or prose. He blends his arts, as all art should be a blend, all from the same fountainhead. The crowded beach would gradually empty, and a pitted moon would hover over sand scalloped with a million footprints.

It would be time to go.


The Coast of Chicago Discussion Questions

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.


Interview with Stuart Dybek

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. In fact, they are the first words he speaks weeks after his most recent return. He is prone to long periods of silence.


Stuart Dybek Reads Poetry Amongst the Art



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