Chicago's remarkable populist tradition includes a diverse range of voices, from Carl Sandburg to Gwendolyn Brooks. The Journal of Ordinary Thought is a firm product of that tradition, showcasing everyday people from the neighborhood with something to say. Some are joyfully discovering their creative potential; some are more urgent to make their opinions heard. The theme here, "Notes for a People's Atlas of Chicago," playfully reveals the limitations of maps in detailing the experience of lived space. Given an outline of the city, participants created their own atlases and legends. Included are maps denoting the Cubs/Sox divide, the barrage of condos being built, places to buy the best pierogies or find residences of IVAW members.
Written works also celebrate neighborhood pride as much as they lament threats to neighborhood cohesion. "On the Cote D'or," a poem by Larry Ambrose, wonders if "ordinary people" exist in the world of the Gold Coast where "Rich ain't enough. Mattering is what really matters," and fancy condo development is "Crushing inconvenient flop rooms, tender buttons, ma and pa ice creams, even ward offices" that used to define neighborhood life.
Anything goes with the selection of writing, and poets can be as rhymey or preachy as they feel necessary. At times, this results in the inevitable rant against bad manners or the arousing Obama cheer. Aesthetes will roll their eyes, but it's as an empowerment project, by which "Every person is a philosopher," that JOT succeeds. Amid the raw, street-level wisdom, there's plenty of idealism. It's no loss to encourage aspiring writers to keep on keepin' on.