Poet, Princeton lecturer, and former Zingerman's employee Michael Dickman accounts for days line by line in new collection
Days go by in many sorts of ways: hectic, enjoyably, dragging, intensely, calmly, explosively, gratifyingly. They can take on not just one but a range of characteristics. I am convinced that poet Michael Dickman goes through his days attentively if his poems are any indication of how he lives.
Drawing on nature and circumstances, Dickman’s new collection, Days & Days, reveals observations about parenthood, television, love, hotel stays, prescription drugs, and bodies of water. The poems are associative. Lines next to each other may seem unrelated and abstract at times, and then a line a few pages later will relate to a previous thought. The longest poem, “Lakes Rivers Streams,” reads:
This is the earth & sometimes the earth
Now I remember they were horses mulching the backyard
The horse metaphor for children continues:
My horse kids eat something off the ground I can’t quite make out
What should I do with their withers & fetlocks what should I do with
A parade is nice
These lines capture the variety and vicissitudes of days, whether with children or other topics. One wonders if Dickman is constantly jotting down fragments as he goes through his days and later fits them together into cohesive poems.
Formerly of Ann Arbor, Dickman now teaches at Princeton University. He reads at Literati Bookstore on Friday, September 20, at 7 pm. I interviewed him prior for Pulp.
Rachel DeWoskin's Banshee is a novel about Samantha Baxter, a woman who faces a serious medical diagnosis and casts about for meaning while acting out in ways inconsistent with the life she has lived so far. She crosses lines in her job as a professor and her roles as wife and mother. Through it all, she recognizes the incongruencies of her actions, but she does not just plow ahead disrupting her middle-aged life; instead, she both makes her choices and contemplates how they unfold.
While her actions appear extreme, ranging from sleeping with a student to alienating her husband, Samantha does not leave her life and home. Her defiance centers on how she acts within her existing family and professional relationships. Samantha says what she wants to, unapologetically follows her impulses, and lets the consequences unfold. Accordingly, the prose consists of her first-person narration of her experiences and perspective as she transforms and reacts to her major health problem and to how she feels in new situations. The plot becomes about what she does or doesn’t do, what she says or doesn’t say, and what she thinks and feels about all of it.
Writer, poet, and Ann Arbor native DeWoskin previously acted in a Chinese soap opera and now teaches at the University of Chicago. She will speak about and sign Banshee at Literati Bookstore on Monday, September 9, at 7 pm. Beforehand, I interviewed her about her writing and new novel.
What do you do?
It’s what people ask when they first meet as a way to identify each other, yet our jobs do not have to define us.
When I asked Jeff Kass this question, he answered with three jobs: a full-time English teacher at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, part-time pizza delivery person, and part-time director of literary programs at the Neutral Zone for a year in 2016-2017. During that time, he also worked on drafting the autobiographical poems about this experience that form his new collection, Teacher/Pizza Guy (Wayne State University Press).
Teacher/Pizza Guy reveals Kass’ experiences in the classroom and pizza place, including issues with service industry jobs, challenges of aging, and relationships with colleagues, youth, and family. Despite the possible mundanity of work, Kass offers poetic insights on the situations. The first poem in the collection, “Oh, Splotch of Blue Paint,” not only addresses the paint on the sidewalk outside of the school where Kass teaches but also ruminates about its origins:
…were you trying to paint the sea? A place
for you to float in? The breeze a lovely, reassuring
friend who brings you cookies and iced tea
and listens to you without judging…?
This speculative question, in turn, raises a question for me: Isn’t that what we’d all like, a pleasant place, a friend who shares treats, and good conversation? Another poem depicts colleagues crossing paths in the night as Kass returns to home from his pizza-slinging job to see a fellow pizza slinger working his other job of delivering newspapers.
Amidst dishwashing, disastrous delivery runs, and the grind of teaching students in class after class how to write essays, Kass pulls out moments of clarity that describe the working life. One poem describes a break during which he makes a pizza for himself, one that’s not on the menu, and writes, “Believe / for a moment / your time / belongs / to you. / Savor. / Chew.”
Within the drudgery of going from job to job, Kass is not all work; he observes and shows parallels between his jobs and life, recognizing and taking ownership of those moments rather than letting work consume him, almost as if he is both living his life and watching it from the outside. Kass finds meaning in those fleeting moments of entering and exiting customers’ lives to bring them pizza and also seeks respect as he makes ends meet.
Kass, who lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, Karen Smyte, and their children, Sam and Julius, will read from his collection at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, September 10, at 7 pm. I interviewed him about his poetry and work.
Through chapters alternating between characters’ perspectives, Michigan writer Caitlin Horrocks’ new novel, The Vexations, narrates the life of not just composer and pianist Erik Satie but also the lives of his sister and brother, Louise and Conrad, and the people in their lives. The siblings’ experiences diverge as they are raised with different family members and pursue their unique interests and desires. Hardship, pain, and loss mark their pursuits, yet, true to history and especially for Erik, they find success, too.
Originally from Ann Arbor, Horrocks lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and teaches at Grand Valley State University. She will read at Literati Bookstore on Monday, August 19, at 7 pm. She answered some questions for Pulp here.
Valencia Robin’s new poetry collection, Ridiculous Light, spans time, space, and seasons -- from Milwaukee in the 1960s to Ann Arbor -- and offers moments of distinct observations. The speaker invites readers into specific recollections and, within them, shares not just what happened but vivid descriptions and sublime reflections on the natural world, people, identity, and experiences.
A poet and painter, Robin is one of the founding members of GalleryDAAS at the University of Michigan. She now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.
She will return to Ann Arbor to read at Literati Bookstore on Friday, August 16, at 7 pm, and Pulp interviewed her before her visit.
This story was originally published on September 12, 2018.
How do obligations and desires compete in our lives?
Li presents a broad cast, ranging from restaurant staff to the family members who own the Beijing Duck House. In fact, the family tree -- or rather the map of characters -- is on the inside cover of the book, which proves quite useful when reading.
(You can have your book signed by Li at Nicola’s Books on September 20 at 7 pm.)
The Ann Arbor-based Li teaches at the University of Michigan and works at Literati Bookstore. She earned her MFA from the University of Michigan and is originally from the D.C. metro area.
GREY GRANT’S NEW OPERA PLAYS WITH THE FORM WHILE CHRONICLING THE JOURNEY AND TRANSFORMATION OF A TRANS-WOMAN
Trees, folklore, Michigan places, Greek mythology, and the trans experience infuse the new opera Michigan Trees: A Guide to the Trees of Michigan and the Great Lakes Region, which is also the name of a guidebook that inspired it. This opera, written, composed, and produced by Grey Grant, depicts the journey of a trans-woman named Orna as she comes to terms with her identity.
A preview of the opera, also paired with other operas and folk songs, will take place at Literati Bookstore on Friday, August 2, at 7 pm.
In the 11-part libretto, Orna travels north to Chapel Rock on Lake Superior, where she becomes a white pine and connects with her womanhood. She also encounters the mystic character of Mother of Trees, which represents and protects the spirit of trees and encourages Orna’s transformation. During her journey and transformation, though, Orna separates into two parts -- Orna, As She Feels She Is Seen and Orna, As She Sees Herself -- which embody the internal disconnect and conflict that transgender people feel, Grant told Pulp in an interview. Then Orna, As She Feels She Is Seen leaves the other half of herself to trek back south, passing Gaylord, Flint, and other cities to reach Ypsilanti, only to realize that she has left her true self wilting on the shore. Again, Orna goes north and becomes one with herself.
During these journeys, Orna communicates her desires, singing:
What's Really Going On: Brooke Annibale brings her questioning progressive-pop to Ann Arbor for a free show at The Ark
Songs on Brooke Annibale’s new album, Hold to the Light, express desire for something that may or may not be there and then both yearn and hesitate to reveal those feelings. Throughout, lyrics question what is really going on and wrestle with admitting reality, voicing thoughts, and letting it all be. With synth, electronics, and both acoustic and electric guitars, Hold to the Light wonders about and wanders among the complexities and feelings between two people.
Annibale is a singer-songwriter and guitarist originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following her indie-acoustic focus, Annibale is evolving to write and play pop-progressive music.
The Ark will host Annibale for a third time in a free show Tuesday, July 23, at 8 p.m. with donations of nonperishables accepted for Food Gatherers. Pulp interviewed Annibale for her appearance in town.
Museum exhibit labels tell the stories of an eccentric curator and visitor in Matthew Kirkpatrick's new novel
The Ambrose J. and Vivian T. Seagrave Museum of 20th Century American Art by Matthew Kirkpatrick is a novel in the form of museum exhibit labels. The labels reveal the art pieces in the museum, along with the curator’s unique relationship and what has happened to the Seagrave family’s daughter. In between the labels, occasional passages narrate a visitor’s exploration of and discoveries in the museum.
Kirkpatrick teaches creative writing at Eastern Michigan University and previously studied at the University of Utah for his Ph.D. He also wrote a story collection, Light Without Heat, and a novella, The Exiles.
On Monday, July 1, at 7 pm, Kirkpatrick reads at Literati Bookstore with Joe Sacksteder (see related interview). The two authors met at EMU, and both received their Ph.D. at the University of Utah, though at different times. Pulp interviewed Kirkpatrick about his interest in museums, his new book, and what projects he’s working on next.
Psychological dramas and fragmented stories in Joe Sacksteder's "Make/Shift" push against form and content conventions
A contestant in a game show where people are eliminated if they get aroused. Parents and kids enduring an overnight trip for hockey. A man in grief who sees letters in the sealant on the road. An international student and her hall counselor coming to understand each other’s perspectives.
Each of these characters, among others, navigate the shifting situations of the short stories and flash vignettes of Make/Shift, the new collection by Joe Sacksteder.
Sacksteder studied and taught at Eastern Michigan University. He was a visiting instructor at Interlochen Center for the Arts and now serves as Director of Creative Writing there.
On Monday, July 1, at 7 pm, Sacksteder returns to town to read at Literati Bookstore with Matt Kirkpatrick (see related interview). The two authors met at EMU, and both received their Ph.D. at the University of Utah, though at different times. Pulp interviewed Sacksteder about his connection to Ypsilanti, writing, and upcoming projects.