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.
In his poems, Keith Taylor draws attention to what you might not notice and highlights its character and depth. In doing so, he does what identifying things by name achieves for him: helps us see and know living things, moments, scenes.
When he was working on a collection of poems, Marginalia for a Natural History, in his own form of eight nine-syllable lines, he serendipitously encountered a damselfly with a nine-syllable name. It was not just any insect but the ebony jewel-winged damselfly.
His personal discovery was in line with his view of writing poetry as a demand of gods in whom he doesn’t really believe. “Those gods again. They’re out there. They give you these things,” he said at the “Exit Interview with Keith Taylor and Cody Walker” event at Literati Bookstore on Friday, April 20. The event celebrated Taylor’s retirement from the University of Michigan this spring.