Archives for category: Chicago

by W.S. Di Piero

Trying to find my roost   
one lidded, late afternoon,   
the consolation of color   
worked up like neediness,   
like craving chocolate,   
I’m at Art Institute favorites:   
Velasquez’s “Servant,”   
her bashful attention fixed   
to place things just right,   
Beckmann’s “Self-Portrait,”   
whose fishy fingers seem   
never to do a day’s work,   
the great stone lions outside   
monumentally pissed   
by jumbo wreaths and ribbons   
municipal good cheer   
yoked around their heads.   
Mealy mist. Furred air.   
I walk north across   
the river, Christmas lights   
crushed on skyscraper glass,   
bling stringing Michigan Ave.,   
sunlight’s last-gasp sighing   
through the artless fog.   
Vague fatigued promise hangs   
in the low darkened sky   
when bunched scrawny starlings
rattle up from trees,   
switchback and snag
like tossed rags dressing   
the bare wintering branches,   
black-on-black shining,   
and I’m in a moment   
more like a fore-moment:   
from the sidewalk, watching them   
poised without purpose,   
I feel lifted inside the common   
hazards and orders of things   
when from their stillness,   
the formal, aimless, not-waiting birds   
erupt again, clap, elated weather-
making wing-clouds changing,   
smithereened back and forth,   
now already gone to follow   
the river’s running course.
Photo: Matt Maidre (shot 12/16/08)


There are only two ways to get to Chicago. You either are born here or you arrive. Those born here have a natural claim, the automatic ownership that emerging into the world upon a certain spot has granted people, at least in their own view, since time began…Being a Chicagoan is not a matter of how long you reside here, but how it affects you. It is a process, an attitude, a state of mind.”

NEIL STEINBERG, You Were Never in Chicago

“I grew up in Chicago. And reading You Were Never in Chicago reminds me why I still think of Chicago as home even though I haven’t lived in the city for more than twenty years. Steinberg brilliantly explores the historical and contemporary city and how each of us makes (or loses) our way in it. Whether you’re a native or you just arrived at O’Hare, read this book: it will make you feel at home in Chicago. Even better, it will you make Chicago yours.” DAN SAVAGE

 ”[A] rollicking newspaperman’s memoir . . . and a strong case for Second City exceptionalism.” NEW YORK TIMES

Find the You were Never in Chicago by Neil Steinberg at


For many years, novelist William Hazelgrove has had the privilege of writing in the attic of Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace at 339 N. Oak Park Avenue in Oak Park, Illinois, where he was writer in residence. The result — Rocket Man, a novel released by Koehler Books in May 2013. 

Considering Rocket Man‘s impressive reviews, Hazelton has done Hemingway proud.

“Rocket Man is a charming tale of fatherhood, family, and the American Dream.” Midwest Book Review

“The funniest serious novel since Richard Russo’s Straight Man, rich with the epic levity of John Irving and salted with the perversion of Updike.” Chicago Sun Times

NOTE ABOUT THE BOOK FROM WILLIAM HAZELTON: Rocket Man was written after I moved to the suburbs from the city. I looked around and found myself and others unable to keep up with what had become the American Dream…the big car, house, basically the overheated middle class life that had become the American nightmare. When I became the Rocket Man for my son’s scout troop I knew I had a motif to write this novel about a man isolated in a world rapidly spinning out of control. Rocket Man is a story of our time. A man about to lose his home, trying desperately to hang on to what really matters in life. In this way, Rocket Man is really about us. Find the book at

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: William Elliott Hazelgrove is the best-selling author of Ripples, Tobacco Sticks and Mica Highways. His novels have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, selected for Book of the Month Club, received ALA Editors Choice Awards, and have been optioned for the movies. He was the Ernest Hemingway Writer in Residence, where he wrote in the attic of Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace. His latest novel Rocket Man was chosen Book of the Year by He has been the subject of interviews in NPR’s All Things Considered and features in the New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Richmond Times Dispatch, USA Today, and People. Learn more at



Photographs and Text by Art Shay

Foreword by David Mamet (below)

I hear the Chicago accent, and I am a gone goose. Decades of living away, acting school, speech lessons, and the desire to make myself understood in a wider world are gone, and I am saying dese, dem and dose, and am back on the corner, tapping the other fellow on the forearm to make my point, and happy. Art Shay’s writing, and his photos, have the Chicago accent, which may be to say he’s telling you the truth as he knows it, as what right-thinking person would consider doing anything else?

I remember Algren’s Chicago. I remember Algren, sitting alone, in the back at Second City, regularly. I remember the pawnshops on West Madison street—I used to shop there; Sundays at Maxwell Street, and the ventors pulling on your arm and talking in Yiddish; police headquarters at 11th and State, and getting dragged down there on this or that bogus roust when I drove a cab. Art’s photographs are so real that I reflect that I, like them, must have all occurred in black and white.

I think it takes a realist to see the humor in things. I know it takes a realist to see the depth of tragedy. Art’s work feels like the guy tapping me on the forearm.


In the book’s preface, photographer Art Shay quotes Ernest Hemingway’s assessment of Nelson Algren, after reading The Man with the Golden Arm, “…He has been around a long time but only the pros know him…This is a man writing and you should not read it if you can’t take a punch. I doubt if any of you can. Mr. Algren can hit with both hands and move around and he will kill you if you are not awfully careful…Boy, Mr. Algren, you are good.” 


Chicago’s Nelson Algren is photographer Art Shay‘s account of visits during the 1950s to Chicago’s “lower depths” with novelist Nelson Algren — at the time, a resident of the city’s Near Northwest Side.

Here’s an excerpt from book’s description from the page:  Algren gave Shay’s camera entrance into the back-alley world of Division Street, and Shay captured Algren’s poetry on film. They were masters chronicling the same patch of ground with different tools. Chicago’s Nelson Algren... [is] a deeply moving homage to the writer and his city.



Poem by Stuart Dybek

The garments worn in flying dreams

were fashioned there—

overcoats that swooped like kites,

scarves streaming like vapor trails,

gowns ballooning into spinnakers.


In a city like that one might sail

through life led by a runaway hat.

The young scattered in whatever directions

their wild hair pointed, and gusting

into one another, fell in love.


At night, wind rippled saxophones

that hung like windchimes in pawnshop

windows, hooting through each horn

so that the streets seemed haunted   

not by nighthawks, but by doves.   


Pinwheels whirled from steeples

in place of crosses. At the pinnacles

of public buildings, snagged underclothes—

the only flag—flapped majestically.

And when it came time to disappear


one simply chose a thoroughfare

devoid of memories, raised a collar,

and turned his back on the wind.

I closed my eyes and stepped

into a swirl of scuttling leaves.

Photo: “Chicago Union Station,” by Jack Delano, 1943



by Joan Jobe Smith

Driving my green ’72 Dodge four-door with
green upholstery: a perfect getaway car for a
spy in a broccoli forest, I went to see my
lover for nine years every weekend 42 miles
away in L.A. and listened to my Sinatra tape
as I sped upon the freeways through the grand
canyon of all those Goliath-shouldered skyscrapers
and when Frank sang “Chicago,” I’d sing along
“My kind of town LOS ANGELES IS” because I
couldn’t wait to see my lover even though he
didn’t love me, wouldn’t take me to Chicago
where I wanted to go more than Paris or Rome
Chicago where he went all the time to see his
folks and I couldn’t go because he was ashamed
of me because I was married and wanted me
to stay that way and one day while I sang along
with Sinatra singing “Chicago,” right around that
freeway mesa in downtown L.A. where everyone’s
deciding where he’s going: Pasadena, Ventura,
Santa Monica, Bakersfield, a car older than mine
ahead of me had a blowout and its wheel rubber
black exploded all the way around and came straight
at me and my Dodge and I swerved into the fast lane
to miss it and found a miracle in the eye of the
hurry-cane: no pickup towing a speedboat, no
oil tanker, no RV loaded with kids and bicycles
just me and my green ’72 Dodge and Frank Sinatra
and Chicago: strange, lucky angels hightailing it
onto the Hollywood Freeway to the Echo Park off-ramp
to Sunset Boulevard and left onto Lucile to my lover’s
tiny garage-converted pad and our wows and what-ifs.
Later, after I divorced my husband and my lover got
cold feet and pushed me off the 100th story of a
heartbreak hotel, I landed into the arms of a
tall, dark, handsome poet and my ex-lover
went to Chicago with someone else.

“Chicago” and other poetry by Joan Jobe Smith is featured in the new Silver Birch Press release GREEN: An Eclectic Anthology of Poetry & Prose, available at


“A rumor of neon flowers bleeding all night long, along those tracks where endless locals pass…” NELSON ALGREN, Chicago: City on the Make

Photo: “Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sign lights up Illinois Central Railroad freight cars parked in Chicago’s South Water Street freight terminal” by Jack Delano, 1943

Wishing a very happy 176th birthday to the Windy City!


Novelist and short story writer Syed Afzal Haider — whose work appears in the Silver Birch Press Silver Anthology and upcoming Green Anthology — is senior editor of the esteemed literary journal Chicago Quarterly Review. According to the publication’s website, “Chicago Quarterly Review was founded in 1995 to publish both emerging and established writers and, by doing so, encourage them in the development of their craft. By publishing the finest short stories, poems, photographs, and essays we hope to provide readers with work that stimulates, entertains, and inspires.”

The most recent edition (Volume 15, 2012) — available at — features work by Abe Aamidor, Judith Aller, Howard Altmann, Andy Austin, Wallace Baine, Robin Curtiss, Shelley Davidow, Donald G. Evans, Jennifer Firestone, Charles Haddox, Mark Hage, Erik Hanson, Craig Hartglass, Alta Ifland, Nicola Manuppelli, Michela Martini, Lynn Melnick, Idra Novey, James O’Brien, Alice Phung, Signe Ratcliff, Scott Solomon, Samson Stilwell, and John Wilmes. 

Chicago Quarterly Review has an open submission policy. If you’d like to submit, I’d suggest reviewing the publication (you can buy a copy here) and following the submission guidelines (selected details below).

WHAT CQR IS LOOKING FOR: The writer’s voice ought to be clear and unique and should explain something of what it means to be human. We want well-written stories that reflect an appreciation for the rhythm and music of language, work that shows passion and commitment to the art of writing.

CQR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: Chicago Quarterly Review accepts short stories, personal essays, poetry, photographs, and prints of artwork. Please do not submit more than one story at a time.  We accept simultaneous submissions.  We do NOT accept previously published work.


  • Short Stories and Fiction – up to 5000 words
  • Non-Fiction and Personal essays- up to 5000 words
  • Poetry – 3-5 poems
  • Photos, Prints and other Visual Artwork –  Black and white, Jpeg or pdf format preferred

For specific details regarding how to submit your work to the Chicago Quarterly Review, go to this page. (CQR only accepts electronic submissions.) Good luck!



by Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people, Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Photo: Carl Sandburg visits Chicago construction site, 1957, by Leonard Bass



by Carl Sandburg

Gimme the Ax lived in a house where everything is the same as it always was.

“The chimney sits on top of the house and lets the smoke out,” said Gimme the Ax. “The doorknobs open the doors. The windows are always either open or shut. We are always either upstairs or downstairs in this house. Everything is the same as it always was.”

So he decided to let his children name themselves.

“The first words they speak as soon as they learn to make words shall be their names,” he said. “They shall name themselves.”

When the first boy came to the house of Gimme the Ax, he was named Please Gimme. When the first girl came she was named Ax Me No Questions.

And both of the children had the shadows of valleys by night in their eyes and the lights of early morning, when the sun is coming up, on their foreheads.

And the hair on top of their heads was a dark wild grass. And they loved to turn the doorknobs, open the doors, and run out to have the wind comb their hair and touch their eyes and put its six soft fingers on their foreheads.

And then because no more boys came and no more girls came, Gimme the Ax said to himself, “My first boy is my last and my last girl is my first and they picked their names themselves.”

Please Gimme grew up and his ears got longer. Ax Me No Questions grew up and her ears got longer. And they kept on living in the house where everything is the same as it always was. They learned to say just as their father said, “The chimney sits on top of the house and lets the smoke out, the doorknobs open the doors, the windows are always either open or shut, we are always either upstairs or downstairs—everything is the same as it always was.”

After a while they began asking each other in the cool of the evening after they had eggs for breakfast in the morning, “Who’s who? How much? And what’s the answer?”

“It is too much to be too long anywhere,” said the tough old man, Gimme the Ax.

And Please Gimme and Ax Me No Questions, the tough son and the tough daughter of Gimme the Ax, answered their father, “Itis too much to be too long anywhere.”

So they sold everything they had, pigs, pastures, pepper pickers, pitchforks, everything except their ragbags and a few extras.

When their neighbors saw them selling everything they had, the different neighbors said, “They are going to Kansas, to Kokomo, to Canada, to Kankakee, to Kalamazoo, to Kamchatka, to the Chattahoochee.”

One little sniffer with his eyes half shut and a mitten on his nose, laughed in his hat five ways and said, “They are going to the moon and when they get there they will find everything is the same as it always was.”


…and a happy belated birthday to poet, fiction writer, and biographer Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) — born on January 6. Growing up in Chicago, Sandburg was the poet in our midst and author of the famous poem that gave us the designation as “city of the big shoulders.”

My favorite book of Sandburg’s is the Rootabaga Stories — a series of magical, imaginative stories with a Midwestern sensibility written for children (but really for people of any age). The book was one of my greatest influences — for its humor, characters, poetic language, and surreal story lines.  I used to borrow a 33-RPM record from the library of Sandburg reading the stories — and was enraptured by his flat (yet expressive) voice reciting these high-flying tales.

Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg is available for a free download at Project Gutenberg — just click this link — and enjoy…