About two months ago my older brother was agonizing over whether to pursue his PhD and spend the next six years of his life in Chicago or New York City. It was, in many ways, a manifestation of the battle Chicago has been fighting for nearly 200 years as the second city, although strictly speaking Los Angeles (where my brother currently beds down) bumped Chicago down to the three-hole somewhere in the ‘80s. My brother’s a poet, and I couldn’t help but think of his decision as a validation of the New York poetry establishment over the ebb-and-flow of Chicago’s lit scene. As an adopted Chicagoan, it hurt, in a you-owe-me-a-beer-when-I’m-staying-on-your-couch-in-Brooklyn kind of way.
As a means of apology, or explanation, or whatever-it-was, he mailed me a copy of City Of The Big Shoulders: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry, edited by Ryan G. Van Cleave, and I smirked a little, knowing we share the pet peeve of the oft-misquoted line. Go ahead and reread Sandburg’s classic right now, I’ll wait: “broad shoulders” is nowhere in the text. It’s like when everyone misremembers “Luke, I am your father” or “Play it again, Sam.” From a pure judging-a-book-by-its-cover standpoint, which as a writer I do quite often, the title won a quick point from the get-go. It was, sadly, one of the few points the book would win.