Ypsilanti writer and Eastern Michigan University professor Rob Halpern considers the relationship between the personal body and political violence in his new book, Weak Link. Through several forms ranging from poetry to numerical essay, Weak Link examines physicality, art, politics, and war, among other topics, and also is self-referential.
How the writing is working and what it is doing are explicitly addressed and questioned within the text itself. How do we understand and connect with that which we haven’t experienced? How do we go beyond ourselves and situations while still recognizing where we are and what is? What can poetry be and do? These questions and many more populate the collection.
The text expresses a desire to make connections between the public and the personal, between socio-political issues and the self who is interacting with them. At times reading like a stream of consciousness and at others like a well-plotted argument, Weak Link simultaneously consists of a thought experiment, aspirational view of poetry, and penetrating depiction of reality.
Earth, Water, Wind, and Fire Flow Through "Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction" edited by Anne-Marie Oomen
Can you fully know a place?
This might be a trick question. As a Michigan native, I have an intimate knowledge of the state, but there are still new things to learn about it. There are unexplored towns, myriad events, acres of forest, and miles of shoreline.
Plus, my understanding of Michigan comes from my perspective, which is one reason why I appreciated the original views and varied essays in the recently published Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction edited by Anne-Marie Oomen.
Elemental contains 24 essays, each presenting a unique angle on the state. Some are deeply rooted in Michigan places and characteristics, and others more tenuously tied to the state. All relate to an element -- earth, water, wind, fire -- present in Michigan. Elemental is a 2019 Michigan Notable Book, a Library of Michigan award for books published in the previous year.
Oomen, a writer with an essay included in Elemental, pens poetry, nonfiction, and plays. Her books include The Lake Michigan Mermaid with Linda Nemec Foster, Pulling Down the Barn, House of Fields, An American Map: Essays, Uncoded Woman, and Love, Sex and 4-H. She has also edited Looking Over My Shoulder: Reflections on the Twentieth Century. Her seven plays include Secrets of Luuce Talk Tavern. In addition to her writing, she is an instructor at the Solstice MFA at Pine Manor College and Interlochen College of Creative Arts.
Oomen will speak with a panel of authors from Elemental at Literati Bookstore on Monday, February 11, at 7 pm. The panel will include Ari L. Mokdad, Alison Swan, Michael Steinberg, and Keith Taylor. All will read and discuss Michigan literature.
Here, Oomen answers questions about Elemental, Michigan, and her writing.
A friend of mine once almost gleefully described her hometown as having a great shop for all her foodie needs. A place to get cheese. A butcher with local meats. A restaurant selling pies. All nearby and not big-box stores. I thought of her joy in this collection of local businesses when I first encountered Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit, a new cookbook by Lisa Ludwinski based on her bakery of the same name, Sister Pie. Ludwinski started the business in 2012 in her parents’ kitchen in Milford, Michigan, and joins the many excellent establishments in the Detroit area that provide baked goods.
But not just any baked goods.
When attending the One Pause Poetry Salon, it struck me that its atmosphere is hard to come by. Part discussion, part reading, and part classroom, people attend to experience a community around poetry and to have an outlet in which to read and converse about poetry, a space that motivates and inspires.
The events, which are weekly from 8-10 pm on Wednesdays through December at Argus Farm Stop on Liberty, start with a free write for 12 minutes because, according to Mike Zhai who runs the Salon, 10 minutes seems too short and 15, too long. While classical music swells and night surrounds the market’s greenhouse, attendees diligently compose lines in their notebooks. A time to read and respond to the results of that writing session follows. Each person has the option to share or not and to chime into the conversation or not. This environment brings low stakes and high returns for people at any point in their journey with poetry.
“It’s fine for people to come and share their own poems or read their favorite poetry by others or just come and listen,” said Zhai. “It’s pretty informal in that way. I want to create this nexus between appreciation and creation.”
The word “measured” would describe poet Phillip Crymble’s poetry collection Not Even Laughter well. This far-reaching collection embraces music, film, and places around the world, while also homing in on specific instants via careful wording. Crymble’s other interests make appearances in his poems, too: vinyl records, vintage audio equipment, travel, hockey, and others. It is the sort of collection in which you notice something new or pick up on something else each time you read.
Cyrmble is no stranger to Ann Arbor, where he lived from 2000 to 2010. He and his wife both studied at the University of Michigan, from which Cyrmble received his MFA and where he then taught. His son was born in Ann Arbor, too. Crymble now lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick with his family and is a doctoral candidate in English literature at the University of New Brunswick. Crymble serves as senior poetry editor for The Fiddlehead, a Canadian literary journal.
He has lived around the world and studied literature extensively. Born in Belfast and raised in Northern Ireland until 7, he also lived in Zambia for two years. Then, with his father and brother, he moved to Canada and attended middle school and high school in Milton, Ontario. His first undergraduate degree in English came from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. After spending a gap year in Europe and Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, he studied creative writing at York University in Toronto, Ontario.
Recently, Crymble has started to write and speak about having a disability. He lost his arm in an industrial accident during high school.
Crymble reads at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, October 23, at 7 p.m. with Ann Arbor poet Sarah Messer. Here, he shares about his life, poetry, and memories of Ann Arbor.
Jurassic Park. The Super Bowl. The Grand Canyon. The sitcom Friends. All seemingly unrelated, but they coexist in Love Dream With Television (Noemi Press), a new book by Hannah Ensor. Poems in this collection are breathy and fast, while grounded in art and pop culture.
Ensor is the Hopwood program manager at the University of Michigan, where she completed her Bachelor’s degree. She then earned her MFA at the University of Arizona. Having returned to Ann Arbor and published her new book this month, Ensor will read at Literati Bookstore on Wednesday, October 3, at 7 pm and speaks with Pulp here.
While I get déjà vu from my dreams, I do not usually experience premonitions. Sometimes I might have them about people I meet, but the premonitions are usually wrong and maybe excess cautiousness instead. So when I started reading Elizabeth Schmuhl’s new collection of poetry called Premonitions (Wayne State University Press), I was intrigued by what they might be.
Schmuhl, who describes herself as having lived all over the place (Chicago, New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Michigan), covers a range of topics beyond premonitions in her new book. Elements of the natural world, seasons, and change also figure strongly in the poems. As an artist with many talents, including dance, Schmuhl also includes bodies and movement in the collection.
Poems in Premonitions are not titled but rather numbered, and the number is encircled by a colored dot. Dark topics, from death to loneliness, contrast bright colors and hopeful moments.
The first poem drops us into a world without internet, which perhaps makes premonitions more possible in the absence of the constant fact-checking and forecasting that are rampant online. Reading Premonitions can feel like a fascinating flux of trying to get one’s bearings, finding a line that centers oneself, and then finding that the next line changes it all.
Schmuhl will read at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, October 2, at 7 pm. Ann Arbor poet Keith Taylor will introduce her and conduct a discussion with her. She shares about premonitions, her collection, and more about her life in the following interview.
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.
Art forms will interconnect during "Poetry Through the Ages," one of the many events of the second Rasa Festival, which goes from September 1 to October 7. Visual art, dance, and music are to embody the words of Indian poetry in this new addition to the festival on Saturday, September 15, from 8-9:30 pm at the Arthur Miller Theatre in Ann Arbor.
Sreyashi Dey is a conceptual artist, choreographer, and dancer for this event, as well as director of the Rasa Festival and president and artistic director of Akshara, the organization producing the festival. She described the concept of "Poetry Through the Ages" by saying "words of the poetry will find expression in the diverse art forms that will work together to create a new aesthetic tapestry."
Music and myth. Michigan and memory. These subjects course through Russell Brakefield’s first collection of poetry, Field Recordings, which was published this spring by Wayne State University Press. As a Michigan native, when I read his poems I feel the desperation of winter, the joy of berry picking in the summer, and the layers of time. These place-based, lyrical poems highlight the discordant notes of relationships, plans, hopes, and sleep.
Brakefield grew up in West Michigan, studied at Central Michigan University, and earned his M.F.A. in poetry at the University of Michigan in 2011. He taught at the University of Michigan following his M.F.A. and then also worked at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor starting in 2013. In 2017, he moved to Colorado and now teaches at the University of Denver, where he says he is learning a different landscape in the West.
Here, Brakefield shares his experiences in a bookstore and with reading and writing poetry, as well as what’s inspiring him and what’s next.