DePaul University visited us first; four students—Al, Spencer, Marie, and Rachel—flying in from Chicago, while we drove up from Tuscaloosa to meet them in Birmingham. The theme of the exchange was movement. Itt was fitting that we started out with physical movement, from place to place, and visited the Civil Rights museum, an exploration of social movements. After eating at Al’s, we went to Becca’s apartment and wrote an exquisite corpse poem—the typical idea of fun for writers.
The next day, we headed out to the train tracks to write for a few hours before we hiked down to a small creek, reading the raw things we wrote for the camera. Afterwards, after eating at Mugshots, we went down to the model train station and read the poems we had written for the reading, Tongues on the Track. It was a small, intimate setting, one that juxtaposed our theme of movement against the still train, the quiet resting of the shadowed figures that sat, listening to the reader.
The weather next day was not conducive to camping, as we had originally wanted to do, so we stitched chapbooks with DePaul instead—an exercise they heartily enjoyed. We worked quickly, growing more sure as we worked. The camaraderie knit itself around us, and I realized just how much I would miss these people I had only known for a few days.
When we came to Chicago, I was still groggy from my nap, but awake enough to be struck by the faint, sparkling beauty of the city—how the buildings faded into fog like a myth, the lights sweeping over our faces like they were searching us. We found Al’s apartment and went out to eat before coming back. I stayed up that night to write my poem to read on the radio the next day; my bed was next to the gigantic window that looked out onto the street, struck by how the light seemed different here.
In the morning, we walked to DePaul University and read our poems for the DePaul Writers’ Series. We talked about Slash Pine and the exchanges, as well as about writing in general. We rode the El and walked around downtown Chicago to write for a while—I jotted down notes, but couldn’t think of anything to write yet. We went to the Bourgeois Pig, a café that had literary names for sandwiches—such as the Great Gatsby and the Walt Whitman. We also visited the Poetry Foundation, which was beautiful—it held a lot of books, and we walked around looking at chapbooks before plucking a volume of poetry off the library shelf to read for a while.
Later that night, we visited a writer’s house to hear two authors read from their books—it was another close, intimate experience that reminded me of the reading we had done on the train tracks. It struck me that this was something that something most people didn’t think about when they thought about writers—a kind of support that didn’t necessarily involve fame or lofty recognition, but a personal approach that meant so much more than impersonal acknowledgement.
The next morning, we stitched our chapbooks before taking the El downtown. There was a man dressed in silver clothes, painted silver, who danced to music in a robotic fashion—something that rarely happened in Tuscaloosa. After eating and walking through Millennium Park, we visited the Chicago Cultural Center, to look at the typography exhibit and write. Then we walked to Wicker Park to read what we had written, ending with a freestyle rap by Will. We visited a few bookstores—one carried an eclectic stock of chapbooks and enigmatic works by local authors, and was delightfully quirky.
We packed up our bags early in the morning and said goodbye. I said goodbye to Chicago, but not forever. Years from now, I will be telling my children the story of how I fell in love with a city. About trains and people and the biting cold, the bookstores tucked away in the façade of the city, the poetry that fell from our lips onto park benches.
– Lin Wang