The poems assembled in this special issue of The Blackstone Review are written by alumni of the Odyssey Project, an adult education program funded by Illinois Humanities that offers free college credit upon completion of a series of humanities courses. I have had the pleasure of working with Chris Guzaitis, director of Education and Grants Division at Illinois Humanities, and Audrey Petty, director of The Odyssey Project, in coordinating programming for Odyssey Project alumni, including the poetry workshop led by Issac Ginsberg Miller, Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University, that these poems respond to.
Across three sessions, Issac facilitated a discussion of the work of contemporary poets, such as Chicago poet Nate Marshall and the Detroit poet francine j. harris. The workshop discussions were framed by the theme of poetry as a form of archaeology, a way of digging into and exploring personal and shared histories. After collectively reading and discussing select poems, the forms of these poems were used as models for generating poetic responses by the Odyssey alums. All of the poems written had their own power of insight: into the self, into a shared past with families, friends, strangers. I want to give a special thank you to the alums who participated and shared their voice with a group who became something more.
When the circle had finished sharing poems at the end of the first session, an alum remarked that these poems should be published, should be shared with other people who might find inspiration or recognition in the feelings of the poems. Having read Odyssey Project student writing for years, I have had the same thought countless times. Poems, as honest articulations of meeting and temporarily defeating the difficulties of lived embodiment, journey through loss and self-discovery as profoundly as perosnal essays on literature or philosophy, paintings, drawings, artists’ books; the poems in this issue are testaments to the organic intellectuals that surround us on the bus, on the train, an unexplored reservoir of who we are and who we could be if we could stop to listen, to write, to speak, to share.
I am thankful to have a place where I can share the work of these writers whose voices deserve the same place of praise as any ancient or contemporary poet. And I hope this is not the last time I am able to present the intellectual and creative expressions of The Odyssey Project students.
Editorial Note: The images for each poem and this essay are by Alfred Stieglitz and come from the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago.