Being whisked away on a journey through Chicago — its neighborhoods, its establishments, its parks and natural habitats, across time — understanding what a city means to a group, to a culture, to those who went through what others did not: This is what reading the newly released Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry feels like.

The book is the culmination of a project years in the making, brought to fruition by editor Donald G. Evans. An Oak Parker, who is also the founder and executive director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, Evans took on completing the poetry anthology in 2018 when his friend, Robin Metz, who started working on it in 2009, passed it on to Evans to see it published posthumously. Metz, an award-winning poet and founding director of creative writing at Knox College, had pancreatic cancer and died within two months of handing over his work.

Evans met Metz in Door County, Wisconsin, a couple months before he died.

“Robin, in spurts, seemed like his old self,” Evans recalled. “He was laughing at jokes; we were sharing stories; we were excited to be doing this thing together.” And then Metz would nod off, triggering the realization that he would be doing this alone, that “the reality of Robin’s impending death … all of a sudden is the only factor. He had very little time left.”

Donald Evans (Submitted photo)

To make sense of the vast collection Metz had gathered, Evans narrowed the focus in some areas and widened it in others. He limited poems to those about Chicago. While Metz had gathered roughly three poems per poet, initially solicited from a call for submissions through “Poets & Writers,” Evans decided there would only be one poem from each poet, making room for other contributors. He then curated the collection to allow for “an enormous range of voices” that represent Chicago — from different neighborhoods, demographics, ages and races, along with LGBTQ+ poets.

He first considered if a work was “a really good poem” and “a really good Chicago poem.” Then, he said, “as I was sifting through all the possibilities for inclusion in the anthology, I certainly was attracted to poems that were from a different point of view or a different perspective than we already had.”

The collection contains the work of more than 150 poets, along with a small sampling of visual artists. The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame raised $25,000 to make the project happen, according to Evans.

Another consideration was publishing. He secured After Hours Press of Elmwood Park, run by Al DeGenova, a small press he founded in 2000 while living in Oak Park, where he resided from 1996 to 2015. For the anthology, they needed another publisher to help with distribution and teamed with Third World Press of Chicago, which uses Ingram to get books into stores across the nation.

DeGenova is also a poet, and his poem, “The Bus Stop,” is in the anthology. But he’s not the only poet in the book with Oak Park connections. Charlie Rossiter’s poem “Memorial Day,” also appears. Rossiter lived in Oak Park for 19 years before he moved to Vermont in 2016. He partnered with DeGenova as the poetry performance duo AvantRetro, which performed locally and in the Midwest. He also ran Unity Temple’s Third Saturday Coffeehouse for 10 years, featuring performers and an open mic. Rossiter currently hosts the podcast, “Poetry Spoken Here.”

Donald Evans (Submitted photo)

Juana Iris Goergen, DePaul University professor emerita, now splits her time between Puerto Rico and Germany. She lived in Oak Park for 30 years, until 2019. The village makes an anthology appearance in her poem, “Reconquest.” Goergen said, “I included Oak Park in the poem because I was in the train from DePaul to Oak Park, Green Line, when I wrote the first draft.”

Faisal Mohyuddin, a current Oak Park resident, wrote “Ella Fitzgerald, Entering Chicago by Train, Remembers Her Mother’s Voice,” and has artwork in the book. Former Oak Parker Frank Varela’s “The Racoons of Humboldt Park” appears in the anthology, and Oak Park and River Forest High School English Teacher and Spoken Word Educator Peter Kahn contributed “Upstairs at Ronny’s Steakhouse.”

These poems and many others were previously published in literary journals or the poets’ own books, which is noted, along with publication dates. The anthology collection is accessible to a variety of audiences, something Evans said is likely an outcome of his choosing works he likes to read.

“They reflect my sensibility. I really enjoy poems that I can understand and think about, and where the images are explosive, that there is a certain urgency in them,” he said. “Sometimes I have to read them over to get the nuances, but these are poems that I immediately enjoyed,” he said, adding that these are poems where, “you can find yourself.” 

“Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry” is available at The Book Table, 1045 Lake St., Oak Park, or booktable.net. It may also be ordered from The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame: chicagoliteraryhof.org/poetry_anthology.

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