The History Of American Cities Through The Lens Of Poetry

The United States of America is a great melting pot of diversity, much of which can be seen in its cities. February is African American History Month — but most of us have forgotten because we’re so focused on COVID-19 and a historic second impeachment. But go to America’s cities, and the melting pot is there for everyone to see. The history becomes more visible. Chinatown in NYC, Little Tokyo in LA, the French Quarter in New Orleans. 

Poetry is a great way to experience a city’s history. 

Trenton, New Jersey holds a number of events throughout the year devoted to those whose hearts yearn for more poems from new and old writers alike. The Pop Up Shop: Black History Month: Poetry Edition will occur on February 27 at 2 PM in the Heavenly J Dance Studio. Remembering Poe will take place in the Historic Village at Allaire (Wall Township, NJ), but will set you back thirty dollars.

New York is another great place to enjoy the written word — voice aloud. The Spoken Word Battle Slam series: The ReBoot will take place in Brooklyn’s APAC Studio on Friday, March 5 at 8 PM. Slam poetry is an experience like no other, and we highly recommend seeing (and listening for yourself) at least once.

Head to Honey’s Lounge in Houston, Texas for Talkin Dirty After Dark on Friday, February 19, at 7 PM. A second event at Honey’s will present The Ides of March on Friday, March 19 at 7 PM.

For fifteen dollars, you can listen to Herbs & Words Spoken Word & Smokin Mics in Philadelphia, PA on February 27 at 8 PM. 

Those interested in city-specific poems can begin a relevant search here. Chicago Poems is an aptly-named collection of poems written by Carl Sandburg. Here’s an excerpt:

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.

If you’re not drooling for American cities just yet, try “Elegy for the Native Guards.” Here’s a taste:

We leave Gulfport at noon; gulls overhead

trailing the boat—streamers, noisy fanfare—

all the way to Ship Island. What we see

first is the fort, its roof of grass, a lee—

half reminder of the men who served there—

a weathered monument to some of the dead.