A Visit with Poet Rachel McGuinness

Recently I had the privilege of meeting with Grand Rapids poet Rachel McGuinness. She is an auburn-haired, entertaining young woman. She responded with humor as she eagerly listened to all my excited, naive thoughts on college and writing and boys; she was sweet with her charming smile, inquisitive eyes, and welcoming demeanor. Rachel, an avid writer, recently won a poetry contest at Trine University in Indiana, where she has begun her second year of college. Her poem, "Street Corner Symphony,” garnered first place in the 2010 Walter Cunningham Writing Contest and a prize of two hundred dollars.

The setting of the poem is a Chicago street corner, where street musicians play and people seldom listen, and poverty is hidden by prosperity. When I asked her about the inspiration for this poem, she recalled a trip to the city with friends when she was confronted with the "contradiction" of the city streets. As she described it, there are those who tune in to reality and those who blindly walk by. “Street Corner Symphony” is poignant in that it addresses numerous issue—- God, poverty, ignorance, apathy, and selfishness— to name a few. It makes one feel deeply the relevance of a street corner. Rachel wrote herself into the poem, showing her true emotions about these issues and perhaps managing to show people the truth.

Rachel’s history of writing poetry goes back several years, as she wrote her first poem in history class in the eighth grade, a poem about the slave trade which brought her attention from several sources. Her teacher had her read it in front of the whole class, more of a punishment than a reward for Rachel, who abhors speaking in front of people. Additionally, her mom encouraged her to enter it in a contest—which she won! Since that time, Rachel has been writing poetry, often finding material in her own personal experiences. She has used her poems as gifts for her parents and for a catharsis of sorts. Her poems have gained her considerable attention. Several of the high points are as follows: “I Have Always Wanted a Giraffe for a Pet” won the Michigan version of 2008 River of Words Poetry Competition in the high school category; her poem “Uncle Joe” captured First Place in the Student Division of the 2009 Dyer-Ives Foundation Annual Poetry Awards, and now “Street Corner Symphony” winning the Walter Cunningham Writing Contest. It’s amazing, too, that all her poems are varied in texture, style and ideas-as varied as Rachel herself.

She is a person of many interests, including an adoration of soccer, historical books, the sound of Bob Marley, and volunteering. When we talked, she was ecstatic about her upcoming involvement in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. She has one younger brother, but is thrilled at the prospect of being involved in a little girl's life.

She is majoring in mechanical engineering and says it has an "artistic angle" and allows for unique "thought processes and out-of-the-box thinking," something I never would have thought would be true of an obviously scientific, logical field. She doesn't know how she will be able to use writing in her future career, but likely won't abandon it. She confided that— though she is currently without a pet of any kind—she would love a dolphin for a pet. This may be contrary to her poem, "I Have Always Wanted a Giraffe for a Pet," but in my opinion, is completely understandable. She is a lively individual, a creative writer, and a completely unique person, something that anyone around her can see, even without a poet’s third eye.

Street Corner Symphony

There’s something about the
concrete angel on Michigan Avenue
that draws street performers
to its outstretched wings.
The man in the slick yellow raincoat--
matching clarinet in hand--
seduces holiday shoppers with
reedy Christmas tunes.
The young men from the projects
caress the angel’s wings
with their drumsticks
tapping out a beat
picked up by the disabled veteran
shaking a penny-filled coffee can
outside of Bloomingdales.
Well-polished shoes
erase sympathy from sidewalks
and headlights from impatient taxi’s illuminate
the man skipping across the street
preaching to the masses about God.
Asleep in a doorway
one man’s head rests on
words that have sealed his fate:
“Mayor Daley Welcomes You to Chicago.”

Rachel McGuinness


Works by Rachel McGuinness

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.