A New Kind of Festival Puts South Side Poetry on Stage

poetry block partyPoets and musicians from across the country will convene in Bronzeville, this Saturday, July 30, for the first ever Chicago Poetry Block Party. The event, which takes place in the 3700 block of South Wabash Avenue, arises out of a partnership between the Poetry Foundation, Crescendo Literary and The Renaissance Collaborative.

According to co-organizer Eve Ewing, the event offers a non-traditional idea of what a literary festival can look like.

“A lot of people—when they think of poetry—think of someone who sits alone writing,” says Ewing, co-founder of Crescendo Literary, an organization that curates art events and educational programs. “We think of interactions with community as essential to what we do, not supplemental.”

For this reason, Ewing felt it necessary that the event be held outdoors, where anybody in the community would be able to simply walk up on it.

Poet Nate Marshall, who starred in the award-winning documentary “Louder Than a Bomb,” is coordinating the Block Party alongside Ewing.

Ewing says that for both her and Marshall, poetry—far from being an isolated art form—has proved a tool to galvanize a community in the face of oppression.

“Nate and myself grew up in the Chicago poetry community,” Ewing says. “Our understanding of what it means to be an artist is tied to a community. Poetry is one of the original ways we speak truth to power.”

The Block Party is the culmination of a three-day poetry incubator held by the Poetry Foundation and Crescendo Literary. The incubator consists of three days of workshops for “emerging poets who engage with community through their creative practice.” Many of the poets participating in the incubator will also be performing at the Block Party.

The Block Party, which runs from 2 p.m.-8 p.m., will featue performances from, among others, vocalist Ravyn Lenae, rapper Ric Wilson and poets Fatimah Asghar, Porsha Olayiwola, Sarah Kay and Jose Olivarez.

While the Chicago Poetry Block Party is the first event of its kind, do not suggest to Ewing that the festival is “bringing” poetry to the South Side.

“We’re not bringing poetry to the South Side, we’re building a stage for the poetry that is already there. Just because there is no vessel for it, doesn’t mean the water isn’t there,” says Ewing.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information on Saturday’s event, visit the Poetry Foundation’s website

Sam Rappaport
Sam Rappaport