Expression Zone: Poetry Night in Ann Arbor gives teens a chance to open up in a supportive space


Poetry Night in Ann Arbor 2018

Three years ago, I nervously walked on a warmly lit stage as the last performer, and only freshman, in Poetry Night in Ann Arbor. An annual tradition that returns Dec. 15 at the Mendelssohn Theater, Poetry Night is an outstanding opportunity for teen poets to bleed part of their written body out into the world.

The structure of this event was refined recently by the new Neutral Zone Literary Arts Director, Molly Raynor. What once was a mass performance of youths ranging from beginners to seasoned poets is now a nurturing and intimate evening of some of the best performers Ann Arbor has to offer.

Although poetry events of any kind are important to support the health of arts in our community, this “new” Poetry Night contains such fine attention to detail and artistry that it is more than just a rehearsed two-hour session. Poetry Night has become a sentient metaphor of poetry itself: it is life, death, love, pain, joy, and everything in between.

As poetry grows to adapt according to contemporary life, events such as Poetry Night offer a platform for voices silenced and ignored. Poetry is healing, comforting, and an act of self-love. Without the variety and creativity poetry offers to a redundant world, the understanding of art, emotion, and life becomes lost in mass fields of competition and success. 

The theme of this year’s Poetry Night, “I Name This Body Mine,” aims to create a better understanding of the individual’s connection not only to her or his own body but to poetry. We are working to understand how to belong in our own bodies and lives, how to heal from toxic relationships with ourselves, and how to reclaim what has always been ours: the body. 

In my personal writings, I use poetry to heal from experiences with mental illnesses and self-disgust. The human form, as awkward and disconnected as it may be, exists as an element of a cosmic and powerful world. Poetry is my recovery. I get to relearn what I view as my body and self, I get to reclaim the flesh and blood that at times feels lifeless, I get to let my mind breathe and speak through poetry.

And in such a collaborative experience as Poetry Night, I am never alone in what I do.

Poetry Night in Ann Arbor & Karley Misek

Karley Misek (right), Lilly Kujawski, Anika Love, and Aldo Leopoldo Pando Girard (shown the flyer) are some of the teens performing at the Neutral Zone's 2018 Poetry Night in Ann Arbor on Dec. 15 at the Mendelssohn Theater.

The performances are in conversation with each other; we are all teaching and learning from each other's poetry. We help each other develop our own work and style, we create and learn as a family of artists, we praise each other and share a common love of something greater than the individual. “I Name This Body Mine” is every broken moment of a teenager’s experience put back together by the endless strength of community, art, and poetry. 

Three years ago, I performed a poem about the flaws of life and reality. This year, I will perform pieces about these same flaws, but my third and last Poetry Night will be an evening of self-love.

Poetry is what brightens the future; it is every flaw and perfection recorded and remembered. Poetry Night in Ann Arbor 2018 is a recording of the belonging, healing, and reclamation of some of the most beautiful poets I know. 

Karley Misek will be a senior in the fall at Huron High School. Her interest in poetry began as a freshman when she joined Huron's poetry club, which she would later take over and run as a junior. Her poems often cover subjects such as mental health, environmental issues, and the purpose of life, which she strings together with scientific metaphors. After high school, she plans to become an English teacher while keeping up with her writing career.

Neutral Zone presents Poetry Night in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Dec. 15, 7-9 pm at Mendelssohn Theater, 911 N. University Ave., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $10/youth (21 & under), $20/adults (22 & up), $50/VIP (all ages); discounts are available for groups of 5+ and/or school field trips. Tickets will be available at the door and in advance at the Neutral Zone (310 E. Washington St.) or online at