March Reading Series Spotlight: Joy Young

Joy Young

Joy Young is a Chicago-based poet and educator, who holds a BA in Fiction from Columbia College and MA in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University. Her work has appeared in Poetry East and Lunch Ticket’s Amuse-Bouche: A La Carte Series. She also volunteers as a writing coach for Open Books’ Publishing Academy Program. She is the Chicago Poetry Center Poet-in-Residence at Mary Gage Peterson Elementary School and Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School.





By Joy Young

(for Vincent)

At nine years old your childhood was for rent.
A continuous game of musical beds, where
a lease was signed on a new family before you
had the chance to unpack. I first met you in spring.
We were swaying on the swings. Your smile was wide
and eager as a welcome mat. Your brown eyes were large
windows, open and searching across the playground
for the flocks of parents that gathered around the
water fountain. As you flew into the wood chips,
your hair stood straight up like feathers. Reminding
me of a baby bird kicked out the nest. Crying for
your mother, who was perched on someone else’s

Joy’s Poet Spotlight: Sarah Kay

Joy Young has selected to spotlight the work of Sarah Kay, and her poem, Hands. Especially at this moment in time, when our focus on our hands is to limit the spread of sickness, Kay’s exploration of touch and gesture reminds us of everything else hands might convey.

Young: “I was a freshman at Columbia College, when I first saw Sarah Kay perform her spoken word poem “Hands,” on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. She immediately became my poet crush. There is a purity and openness to her work. With her soothing lullaby voice, she creates smooth transitions between lines and powerful metaphors… As a poet Kay has taught me to take risks with my writing, open old wounds, and tell hidden stories to heal them properly. She has shown me that I shouldn’t remain a recluse, chaining my words only to spiral notebooks, but allow them to roam free at bars, cafes, lit fests, schools, and social media. By watching Sarah Kay’s performances and seeing her grow as a spoken word artist, I’ve learned to stop second guessing myself as a poet, and trust that my words can speak for themselves.”

(click title below for video) 


By Sarah Kay


People used to tell me that I had beautiful hands. Told me so often in fact that one day I started to believe them, until I asked my photographer father, “Hey daddy, could I be a hand model?” To which he said, “No way!” I don’t remember the reason he gave me, and I would’ve been upset but there were far too many stuffed animals to hold, too many homework assignments to write, too many boys to wave at to, many years to grow.


We used to have a game, my dad and I, about holding hands. Cuz we held hands everywhere. And every time either he or I would whisper a great big number to the other, pretending that we were keeping track of how many times we had held hands. That we were sure this one had to be eight million, two thousand, seven hundred and fifty-three.


Hands learn more than minds do. Hands learn how to hold other hands. How to grip pencils and mold poetry. How to tickle pianos and dribble a basketball and grip the handles of a bicycle. How to hold old people and touch babies. I love hands like I love people. They are the maps and compasses with which we navigate our way through life. Some people read palms to tell you your future, but I read hands to tell your past. Each scar makes a story worth telling. Each callused palm, each cracked knuckle is a missed punch or years in a factory.


Now I’ve seen middle eastern hands clenched in middle eastern fists, pounding against each other like war drums. Each country sees their fists as warriors and others as enemies. Even if fists alone are only hands. But this is not about politics, no hands are not about politics.


This is a poem about love, and fingers. Fingers interlock like a beautiful zipper of prayer. One time I grabbed my dad’s hand so that our fingers interlocked perfectly. But he changed position saying “No, that hand hold is for your mom!”


Kids high-five, but grownups shake hands. You need a firm handshake, but don’t hold on too tight, but don’t let go too soon, but don’t hold them for too long.


But hands are not about politics. When did it become so complicated? I always thought it was so simple. The other day my Dad looked at my hands as if seeing them for the first time and with laughter behind his eyelids, and with all the seriousness a man of his humor could muster he said, “You know you’ve got nice hands, you could’ve been a hand model!”


And before the laughter can escape me, I shake my head at him and squeeze his hand. Eight million, two thousand, seven hundred and fifty-four.

Chicago Poetry Center Team Spotlight:

Thanks to Chicago Poetry Center Social Media and Web Intern, Kristina Kim, for our Spotlight page design and construction.

Kristina Kim

Kristina/Kris Kim is a Soviet-raised Korean American, born in Uzbekistan and brought up in Brooklyn, NY. She has been a finalist for Young Chicago Authors’ “Louder Than A Bomb University Slam”, a finalist/honorable mention at Korean American Story’s “ROAR: Story Slam”, and the March 2020 feature for Luya Poetry’s monthly open mic. She is also a dancer and trained with Boom Crack Dance Company last summer. Currently, she is a second-year student at the University of Chicago studying public policy, creative writing, and human rights.



By Kristina Kim


remember how we’d play hot potato
with your giant paddle hair brush?
I was so ravished by the soft / plunk / of
its rubber handle when I caught it in my reaching hands


only smiled when it fell
when you could hear the violent / thump / of
its plastic bristles hitting our already-beaten-down hardwood floor
oh– how we loved
such different sounds


• • •


remember how on nights we could smell the yelling
& moaning through our adolescent walls,
and you’d tell me its was papa
& mama playing hot potato


that many rounds?
i’d ask


why are you turning the radio up so loud?
i’d ask


can you brush my hair?
i’d ask


& you answered
by picking up the rubber handle
that was waiting by our feet


• • •


i remember how that night, the plastic bristles
felt so cold against my scalp
you brushed my hair harder than usual
just to give a new reason for the tears
that plunked and thumped
off my soft and violent eyes




“Writing poetry makes me feel like I can see myself, like I can see my reflection, but not in a mirror, in the world. I write and I know I can be reflected.”
-Oscar S.

“Writing poetry makes me feel free.”
-Buenda D.

“Writing poetry is like your best friend.”
-Jessica M.