A poet asks: Where does the 'West Side' begin? | WBEZ
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Dynamic Range

Poet Garin Cycholl traces Chicago’s western boundaries

Poet Garin Cycholl is fascinated by America’s western edge. In his work he often finds himself asking: Where does one draw the line, and mark down the western-most border of the United States?

“Is it California? Hawaii or Alaska?” Cycholl remarked in a 2009 interview. “The most western U.S. aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean? The most remote Wal-Mart in western China?”

The Decatur, Ill. native has been known to apply a similar set of queries to his home state.

His first book, Blue Mound to 161, (Pavement Saw Press 2005) was a book-length poem on “geological and historical displacements in Southern Illinois.”

Now on the creative writing faculty at the University of Chicago, Cycholl has turned his focus to the city - and to some of its most problematic landmarks.

In his book-length poem The Bonegatherer, (Moria Poetry 2011) Cycholl examines the geographic and social borders of Chicago’s West Side through the history of Cook County Hospital:


where does “West Side” begin?

                   at the Circle

                   at Racine

                   at Western

                   at Central

                   in County’s waiting room


The hospital is known for providing coverage to some of Chicago’s poorest residents, and Cycholl’s father worked as a medical student there in the mid-1960's.

Cycholl writes about the hospital and its spaces – its waiting rooms and examination rooms – in terms of the people who pass through its doors, but also in terms of its place in Chicago’s literal and historical landscape:


terminus of dis-

placement, suburb

of Mississippi


historically, the

spaces defining “West



 County Hospital and

 “the riots”


but why not prairie?


The Bonegatherer is available here in its entirety, but I recommend listening to Cycholl’s reading of the first section of the poem. You can hear his rendition in the audio above.

Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Garin Cycholl read at an event presented by UniVerse of Poetry in April of 2010. Click here to hear the event in its entirety.

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