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Poetic Ponderings Interview with Terry Chess



Terry Chess Self-Portrait

This interview first appeared in my "Poetic Ponderings" column in Wilmette Living.


James Hall (JH): Today we are featuring Terry Chess, a poet and 31-year Wilmette resident. His work has appeared in The Chiron Review, The Journal of Undiscovered Poets, and Quill & Parchment, among others. His poem "Tornado" was short-listed for the 2020 Fish Poetry Prize. Terry’s poetry is full of imagery and makes me laugh. Terry also has written short stories, and a TV screenplay that was a semi-finalist in the 2008 Scriptapalooza screenwriting competition. Before retiring in 2020, he was founder and General Manager of WLUP-FM, “The Loop,” a commodities trader, and a real estate agent. When not writing, he collects rare books, play chess, and is an avid soccer fan. Terry’s father, Phil, and uncle Leonard, founded Chess Records. Growing up in the music business, he was at many legendary recording sessions – Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Etta James, among others.


James Hall (JH): Terry growing up you were exposed to some of the most famous Blues musicians at Chess Records. Did you ever write song lyrics? 


Terry Chess (TC): When I began writing at age nineteen, my early poetry resembled song lyrics and didn’t have much imagery. I've not written song lyrics since my late teens. In retrospect, I believe that what I wrote then was my first "baby steps" into poetry.


JH: When did you start writing poetry and has your work changed over time?


TC: I began to write poetry in earnest in 2000. My work has evolved over time from reading a wide array of poets.


JH: What poets inspire you?


TC: Many inspire me: Billy Collins, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, Linda

Paston, Charles Simic, Stanley Kunitz, Weldon Kees, Wilfred Owen (I am very attracted to

the World War I poets), to name only a few.


JH: You have been inspired by an eclectic group of poets. World War I poets’ vivid imagery

depicts the gritty realities of war. Wilfred Owen’s 1917 poem "Dulce et Decorum Est," is a

terrifying honest depiction of the death of a man gassed and flung into a wagon. It seems like we have been desensitized to war by constant bombardment of media. What is the place for poetry in humanizing the horror of war?


TC: If people see graphic images of war, I think the brutal reality hits them in the face. But most media outlets shy away from showing them because it is felt to be "inappropriate." Poets like Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, and Siegfried Sassoon necessarily take the reader into the trenches and battlefield hospitals. In "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" (by Randall Jarrell), the airman vividly describes his death, and specifically says, "When I died, they washed me out of the turret with a hose." This kind of poetry shows that war isn't a computer game.


JH: In 1977, you originated the FM rock station, WLUP, “The Loop”, and was its General

Manager. What went into your decision to change WLUP to a Rock format, originating its run as a premier FM Rock station of the 1980s and 1990s?


TC: I decided to change WSDM (mainly a jazz format) to a Rock format, which became WLUP, because the station ratings were mostly dismal. We could not attract enough advertisers, and we were losing money. I asked for a decent budget and one year to change things around. WLUP became successful, exceeding my expectations.


The Reincarnation of Henry VIII as a Sub-Zero Refrigerator

By Terry Chess


Tis a thing much unfair

that I, magnificent in my stainless-steel armor,

should hulk in a common corner 

my only subjects groveling granite countertops,

fawning dishwasher, and Machiavellian expresso machine.

I feast not on legs of beef, nor pheasant, or hearty ale as before.

Nay, they fill my cavernous belly with

yogurt, bean sprouts, and diet cola. 

Tis not fit for a king!


Terry Chess has lived in Wilmette for 31 years with his wife, Roberta. In 2000, he started writing poetry in earnest. His poem, “Tornado,, was short-listed for the 2020 Fish Poetry Prize. Terry also has written short stories, and a TV screenplay that was a semi-finalist in the 2008 Scriptapalooza screenwriting competition. Before retiring in 2020, he was founder and General Manager of WLUP-FM, “The Loop,”a commodities trader, and a real estate agent. Terry collects rare books, plays chess, and is an avid soccer fan. 

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