There are two things in life that Chicago poet Sydney Sargis is particularly passionate about: One is poetry, and the other is the city of Chicago, a place she has always found solace in. She wears these passions on her sleeves in the form of inked imprints. On her right arm, just above her elbow, is a tattoo of the Chicago skyline. On her left arm, a quote from a Terrance Hayes poem that reads, “I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry.” While these two things compliment each other well in Sargis’s case, it is fair to say that one passion of hers serves as the catalyst for the other. For Sargis, the city of Chicago has served as a huge influence not only on her work, but also who she has become as a person. She has said that this city is ingrained in her DNA, no matter how far from Chicago’s city limits she may eventually stray. She sees Chicago as a place of freedom and opportunity. Speaking on how this city has helped shape her work as a writer, Sargis states: “I feel like with Chicago, there’s so much to write about….. There’s so much here. So much physical beauty and so much to digest. There’s so much to dig into and try to figure out.” Sargis approaches her home city with adoration and adolescent curiosity. She has a certain familiarity with Chicago, given the years of memories that she has accumulated here. But, she is also looking to learn new things about this place everyday, leaving no stone unturned. This curiosity gives her poetry a sense of self awareness that few others possess. Through her work, Sargis looks to marry the old with the new. It has a free-spirited quality. Yet, it reflects the mind of someone is constantly growing and evolving as the result of childhood innocence. She vividly recalls the past while simultaneously keeping an eye towards the future.
Born in the Chicago suburbs, Sargis grew up splitting time between her mom, who lived in Romeoville, and her dad, who lived in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. Sargis said that there were stark differences between suburban life and living in the city. She states, “it’s definitely a different experience living with my dad than being at my mom’s. As a kid, I could ride my skateboard and be out with my friends until super late at night. I would come down (to her dad’s place in Chicago) and my dad wouldn’t even let me walk to the 7/11 right next door to us by myself.” Sargis discovered a passion for writing from a very early age. She says that she started writing short stories around the age of 6 or 7, stating that she would grab random notebooks and write stories that “didn’t make any sense.” Just before Sargis started high school, she and her mother relocated to Warsaw, Indiana. It was there that she discovered her love of writing poetry after meeting an english teacher, Ms. Freehauf, who had a significant impact on her. Elaborating on Ms. Freehauf, Sargis states, “she was this amazing human being, amazing poet. I took the advanced creative writing class and I went into it for fiction….I just wanted to write stories again. But she really encouraged me and my poetry. She told me to keep writing and see where it got me. I did a senior year study with her; it was basically just me and her working. I worked on this online literary journal with her where I was an editor. I just got really immersed. She pushed my work so much.” Sargis went on to say that Ms. Freehauf played a huge role in getting her into Columbia, helping her get a portfolio of her best work together which resulted in a poetry scholarship. She is now a student a Columbia College working towards her Bachelor’s in poetry.
Sargis says she is influenced by a wide array of poets and rap artists. On the musical side of things, she says she is influenced by 1990’s jazz rap groups such as the Digable Planets and A Tribe Called Quest. She notes that their rhythmic cadences have shaped her own flow in some of her work. She also mentioned Slug from the Hip-Hop duo Atmosphere as being a particularly big influence, citing his use of storytelling and descriptive imagery as something she tries to incorporate into her own work. On the poet side of things, Sargis cites poets Terrance Hayes, Nate Marshall, Kevin Coval and Gwendolyn Brooks as being other notable influences. Despite pulling inspiration from such a diverse list of artists, Sargis has managed to develop her own voice through her work. Her poetry paints vivid portraits of what it’s like to be young, wild & free, told from the perspective of someone who never wants to grow up. One such poem tells the story of a specific night she hung out with a group of friends. They all sang in unison while someone strummed away on a guitar, before they all eventually escape to the roof of the house at 4am, sitting there until they got too cold. Another one references watching Space Jam at 9am and hanging out with friends at the skate park. These types of sentiments are things that we as humans never let go of; they are essential to who we are. As we get older, we tend to appreciate these sentiments more and more, as there is something about childhood that we never really let go of. Sargis’s work makes you want to experience childhood just one more time. Her poetry serves as a reminder that we are all kids at heart, making the reader realize that the spark that sets our soul ablaze from birth never really goes away. However, despite the youthful innocence captured in a lot of her work, Sargis also possesses the maturity as a writer to tackle heavy topics. Some of her other poems deal with family, some with loss. Others deal with love and infatuation. These poems take on a much more serious tone; the tone of someone who has learned from the experiences of their youth. Despite the contrast between her rather free-spirited writing and her more serious stuff, there is a common thread that binds it all together, giving Sargis her own unique voice. Her work naturally possesses a nostalgic quality. A feeling of yearning that all humans experience every now and again. Sometimes, she’s reliving past experiences that she has had with friends, or mourning the loss of a loved one. Other times, she’s simply talking about a specific place for which she holds a special spot in her heart. However, it all falls under the umbrella of simply wanting to go back to when times were more simple. Sargis acknowledges that nostalgia shows up a lot in her work. She states, “I feel like from the very beginning, I would try to include a lot of nostalgia in my work.” Nostalgia is a naturally human trait. The older we grow, the more we yearn for distant memories. Sargis’s poetry teaches us that it’s okay to reminisce on the good times from past years, just as long as you are sure to appreciate what is happening in the present.
It might seem like Sargis has her head stuck in the past, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t thinking about her future. Right now, as a student at Columbia, she is double minoring in creative advertising and professional writing on top of her poetry major. She says that a lot of advertising agencies in Chicago like to hire art students due to their creativity, and says that might be something for her to pursue when she is done with school. She also said that she might go back and get her master’s degree, with her end goal being to teach in a college setting while writing poetry on the side. She says that she’d like to give to others what her high school english teacher gave to her. She states,”If I could help other people feel the way I do when I write a poem, why not do that?” For now, though, Sargis is prospering as a student at Columbia. Her work has been published in the Columbia Poetry Review, as well as the Lab Review, another on-campus publication. Her work has also been published in various other online literary journals such as the Albion Review and Ultraviolet Tribe. She says her sole focus right now is to challenge herself more and more as a poet, trying to improve her craft each and every day.
A list of her published works along with the journals that they are published in can be found below.
View a list of her published works here:
Teenage Wasteland Review Issue 1- Take it and run, wrinkled faces
The Writing Conference Volume 31 Issue 1- by and by
Navigating the Maze 2016- Nostalgia, me, myself and I, To those who ask what I see
Forest for the Trees Volume 2- devour
Albion Review 2017- Born again waterist
The Lab Review Spring 2017- Indiana: home version, Fragile Woman, Eagle Wisconsin
The Lab Review Fall 2017- Home before dark
Ultraviolet Tribe 2017- Manifest
Columbia Poetry Review Spring 2018- Jungle Man
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