Poems to read and share

The following One View, written by library Deputy Director Jim Madigan, was published in the May 23 edition of the Wednesday Journal

This past Christmas I was lucky enough to receive A People’s History of Chicago, a collection of poems by Kevin Coval.

As I read through the book I found myself wanting to share poems with family and friends. I read “Albert Parsons Can Hang” to Carla, with whom I had visited the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument in Forest Park, and shared “Nelson Algren Meets Simone de Beauvoir at the Palmer House” with feminist sociologist Miriam. When Paulo shared a poster celebrating the 150th anniversary of Karl Marx’s Capital, I read him “Eugene Debs Reads Marx in Prison.”

I felt there was a poem in this book for everyone.

My colleagues at the library, who were then discussing nominations for this summer’s One Book, One Oak Park selection, agreed.

Like Howard Zinn in his groundbreaking A People’s History of the United States, Coval uncovers the hidden and suppressed stories of the struggles of ordinary working-class people, especially black people, against economic oppression and racism. He reminds us who the true makers of history are, in poems like “Reversing the Flow of the Chicago River” and “The Eastland Disaster.”

I think this is an important book, a book that we need in these times. Just as the poems excavate hidden and suppressed history in Chicago, they also can remind us of our history in Oak Park. We, too, have a history of violence against African Americans (the two firebombings of Percy Julian’s home in 1950 and 1951), a history of racial segregation, and a history of people organizing for their rights (for open housing and for equal rights for LGBT people).

Read these poems, share these poems.

One Book, One Oak Park is the library’s community-wide summer reading program for adults and teens. It offers opportunities for neighbors, families, and friends to connect by reading and discussing themes explored in one specific title. Upcoming events include:

  • Poetry and People’s Struggles with Bill Ayers (Wednesday, June 6, 7 p.m.)
  • Author Kevin Coval (Wednesday, June 27, 6:30 p.m.), both at the Main Library, 834 Lake St.
  • Poem and Place: community discussions include field trips to historically significant Oak Park sites.