Hemingway lingers in Oak Park poetry | WBEZ
Skip to main content

Dynamic Range

For an Oak Park poet, Hemingway still lingers

The work of poet Al DeGenova touches the fabric of history. The publisher of the Chicago literary arts journal After House has written books that reference the Beats of the 1950s, as well as collections that channel the great jazz saxophonists of the 1960s.

And as with the poems, so goes the poet: DeGenova, too, walks through history. He lives on the same street in Oak Park, Ill. where the writer Ernest Hemingway spent his boyhood at 339 N. Oak Park Avenue.

In the poem “Living History,” taken from his collection The Bluing Hours (Virtual Arts Collective, 2008), DeGenova describes Hemingway’s ghost, the ghost of the past, haunting his town:

Hemingway's childhood home in Oak Park, Ill. (Flickr/Guy Bisson)

Hemingway’s breath still lingers
here on this street, my street,
his street.
Did he ever walk across
my lawn, sit on my porch
on his way to school, the same school
my sons sit in now?
I walk past his boyhood home,
look up to his third-floor bedroom.
The light is on tonight in that center window.
Whose 17-year-old shadow
contemplates the glory of war?



Hemingway famously (and derisively) referred to Oak Park as a town of "wide lawns and narrow minds," but he was clearly influenced by the stable Midwestern upbringing he had there. Today Oak Park has the same Victorian homes it did in Hemingway's day. And its mindset? You can hear DeGenova’s take as he reads “Living History” in the audio above.

Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Al DeGenova read at an event presented by UniVerse of Poetry in April of 2009. Click here to hear the event in its entirety.

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.