University of Michigan visiting professor Kelly Hoffer applies her poetry habit to grief in “Undershore”

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Kelly Hoffer and her book Undershore.

“the day unthreads, and then the next / day unthreads,” writes poet and University of Michigan Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Poetry, Kelly Hoffer, in her collection, Undershore

The poems in Undershore find themselves submerged in grief, and later in the book, they explore the juxtaposition of loss with new life. During the “smoketrail/afterimage/premonition” in the poem called “Age of decadence/ /sericulture/ /summoning spell” (in this sentence, the slashes are part of the line and title, not indicating line breaks), we see both what is there and what has changed. The poet reflects on a silkworm’s effort to build a cocoon by noting that, “at the moments of greatest observational / pressure, desire seeps into perception.” Bereavement does not erase the persistent want.  

Another poem, “Sidelong: treatises,” points out that “the thing about a cliff is the cliffside, otherwise / it would remain a carpet unfurling in front of you, forever.” The drop-off defines it. They say that grief is an emotion that you must face to get through it, and Hoffer stands at the cliff’s edge and does just that. Hoffer includes two poems called “I want Abysses,” and at the end of the first one writes: 

Caitlin Cowan’s new poetry collection observes holidays and special moments alongside capitalism, the division of labor, and an impending divorce

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A headshot of Caitlin Cowan and her book Happy Everything, which has a white background and a white women's long coat on it with colorful circles coming out of the top and bottom of the coat.

There are many ways for a marriage to go wrong, and Caitlin Cowan’s new poetry collection, Happy Everything, records a number of them. The poem “Instructions for Divorce” recommends to “Know that there’s no manual / for this.” One must make one’s own path and “weld yourself / to the world’s blue ache.”  

Happy Everything contains poems masquerading as holidays and special days, though these writings do not veil how everything is awry aside from the book’s title and the supposedly happy occasions. The multi-part poem “Happy Halloween” looks at the “awful mechanics” of “film after unrated film because Mama / thought unrated meant the same as safe” and asks:

U-M professor Petra Kuppers’ new poetry collection reaches into the soil to see murders, organisms, pollution, recycling, and fairy tales

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Petra Kuppers and her book Diver Beneath the Street

Author photo by Tamara Wade.

Petra Kuppers’ new poetry collection, Diver Beneath the Street, invites you to “Slide into the dive” and become the “lioness” in the “time river” where the “Acorn nut, un-hatted, veined, split, keeps the secret.” The poems navigate the soil and secrets and horrors of women who never made it home. 

Several events related to the book are upcoming. Kuppers will be at Booksweet on May 17 at 7 pm as part of the “True Crime Authors’ Night” with Christine Hume and Antoinette M. James. She'll also perform in Ann Arbor on June 15 at 3 pm in “Crip Drift by the Huron River” with Turtle Disco as part of Ann Arbor 200/Ann Arbor District Library Digital Projects. In the fall, Kuppers will read from Diver Beneath the Street and talk with Shelley Manis at AADL’s Downtown branch on September 25 at 6:30 pm.

Diver Beneath the Street begins with a preface in the form of a prose poem that shares all of the “ley lines” tying the collection together: murder, environmental pollution, fairy tales, the pandemic, and ecology. We learn that the fairy tales evolve from the 1960s Michigan Murder cases in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, from the Detroit serial killings in 2019, and from “access to space constricted during the COVID-19 lockdown.” They exist “Between horror and the soil’s plentitude.” The book goes on to Section I, which contains one poem named after the book, “Diver Beneath the Street,” which also references Adrienne Rich’s poem “Diving into the Wreck.” The poet narrates: 

Mary Gaitskill Reflects on Her Latest Works and Extensive Career During U-M's Zell Visiting Writers Series Event

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

A portrait of Mary Gaitskill wearing a gray sweater.

Mary Gaitskill. Photo courtesy of The Helen Zell Writers' Program.

According to writer and University of Michigan alumna Mary Gaitskill, almost nothing is unbelievable and people are weird. Her work often reflects this notion with morally ambiguous characters, a gritty detailing of misconduct, and a complete rejection of clean-cut, black-and-white narratives. 

Quin, the protagonist of her acclaimed 2019 novella, This Is Pleasure, is one of her weirdest characters. In Quin's mind, his flirtatious workplace actions weren’t all that bad. When women began coming forward about feeling violated, he became caught off guard. 

“There was a cultural landscape for a while at least where he existed—I’m not saying it would be acceptable to everybody,” Gaitskill explained about Quin. “I’m sure he did offend some people, but because of his position, I think he didn’t realize he was offending people.”

Gaitskill shared her latest works and extensive literary experience during a March 21 reading and Q&A at the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s Helmut Stern Auditorium. Hosted by the Zell Visiting Writers Series, an annual showcase sponsored by The Helen Zell Writers’ Program, it brings fiction writers and poets to U-M’s campus to host public readings and lectures.

Initially published in The New YorkerThis Is Pleasure dominated literary circles due to its unlikely telling of a story of the “#MeToo” movement, a social campaign aimed at exposing people, especially those in positions of authority, involved in sexual misconduct. 

It offers a complex narrative about two characters, Quin and Margot, who find themselves entwined with the tendrils of a public sexual misconduct scandal. Quin—a husband, father, and New York book editor—loses his career once young women start coming forward about his wrongdoings. Margot is Quin’s former co-worker, and after rejecting his sexual advances early in their working relationship, the two became close friends in the industry. When Quin’s name hits the front pages of tabloids, the two navigate the complex intersections of power, guilt, and manipulation. 

Love, Grief, Class, and Cancer: A.H. Kim's “Relative Strangers" reimagines a Jane Austen plot set in modern-day California

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A.H. Kim and her book Relative Strangers.

The details of who knows whom, and what happened in their pasts, result in drama in Ann Arbor author A.H. Kim’s retelling of Sense and Sensibility through her new novel, Relative Strangers, set in modern-day California. 

Kim was an attorney and worked at a Fortune 200 company before retiring to write full-time. She raised her family in San Francisco, is a cancer survivor, and now lives in Ann Arbor with her husband. Kim will be in conversation with Camille Pagán at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, April 2, at 6:30 pm.

The parallels to Jane Austen’s novel are revealed in the premise of the book.

Ypsilanti Author Darcie Wilde Continues Character Rosalind Thorne’s Detective Work in the Cozy Mystery, “The Secret of the Lady’s Maid”

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

The cover of Darcie Wilde's novel, "The Secret of the Lady's Maid," is on the left and a photo of author Darcie Wilde wearing a red Fedora hat and red sweater is on the right.

Author photo by Chris Amos.

Rosalind Thorne launches an investigation when Marianna Levitton hires her to find out the cause of her poisoning in the cozy mystery called The Secret of the Lady’s Maid by Darcie Wilde. As the plot unfolds, the attempted murders by arsenic are just the start of problems that expand to include jewel theft and murders. 

This book is the second in the series called “The Useful Woman Mysteries,” which begins with The Secret of the Lost Pearls and features Rosalind, who's the main character in other novels by Wilde.

Wilde is one of several pseudonyms for University of Michigan alum and Ypsilanti-based author Sarah Zettel. Her period novels take place in Regency London, where the haut ton socialize and those in domestic service wait on them. 

Rosalind possesses a keen eye for details that do not line up. Through observing people and delicately asking the right questions, she pieces together the story. As she is talking with Cate, a member of the Levitton family that Rosalind is scrutinizing, Rosalind displays her cleverness and discretion when she asserts: 

U-M law professor Barbara McQuade fights against disinformation in her new book

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Barbar McQuade and her book Attack From Within

When Barbara McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor and MSNBC legal analyst, prosecuted a doctor who “cured” cancer in patients who didn’t have cancer, some victims refused to believe they’d been duped. They had trusted their doctor, after all, and how could they have been so wrong?

In her new book, Attack From Within: How Disinformation Is Sabotaging Americawhich she will discuss at the Ann Arbor District Library on March 7, McQuade uses many examples from history, here and abroad, to show us just how disinformation works. 

In her comprehensive page-turner, McQuade also pulls theories from top political scientists, stories from FBI agents and other experts, and even Greek mythology, weaving them into a coherent argument that just may save our democracy. 

Poet Zilka Joseph imparts memories, history, and culture of the Bene Israel people by way of food in “Sweet Malida”

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Zilka Joseph and her book cover for Sweet Matilda.

“From tumbled sands and shattered bark / blurred shadows dragged us,” writes Zilka Joseph in her new poetry collection, Sweet Malida: Memories of a Bene Israel Woman

These poems are immersed in the history, customs, and food of the Bene Israel people. The Ann Arbor poet shares about their shipwreck on the shores of India, worship of the prophet Elijah, and subsequent dispersing across the world. While Joseph imparts facts about the culture and community, she also makes the poems personal with her memories. 

This cultural and familial history informs Joseph’s poems, such as “Leaf Boat,” which is a longer poem that receives its own section of the book. Joseph describes “my body a leaf boat / lamp floated on water” in the context of the heritage of her ancestors, grandmother, parents, and herself who moved from place to place. Even her birth was during unsettled weather: “I was born Thursday in monsoon rain / night time East coast time / in Bombay a baby opens her eyes.” Water, especially oceans, flows through the lines, and “in my dream / the whales are singing.” 

Joseph focuses less on what is lost, though she does pay tribute to her parents, and focuses more on the richness that the traditions and foods of the Bene Israel pass along. One such food is “draksha-cha sharbath. Sherbet of raisins” for Shabbath, which Joseph writes about replicating on her own after moving to the United States. Earlier, she had prepared it with her grandmother and mother. As she writes in one of the short essays or prose poems that are interspersed throughout the book, making this recipe is like time traveling for Joseph:  

U-M Writer-in-Residence Caroline Harper New's poetry book “A History of Half-Birds" unfolds time and explores human-animal interplay

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Caroline Harper New and her book A History of Half-Birds.

Author photo by Steven Kardel.

“Control is a delicate science,” writes Caroline Harper New in her poetry collection, A History of Half-Birds. This book won the 2023 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry as selected by Maggie Smith.

New is a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Michigan and a U-M alumna with an MFA in Writing. She will read and be in conversation with poets Abigail McFee and Maia Elsner on Thursday, February 15, at 6:30 p.m. at Literati Bookstore.

A History of Half-Birds examines destruction from both natural events and human actions. The consequence is that a person’s life—or an animal’s life—is no longer the same. Since “We study the past to know the future,” there is no forward movement in these poems without probing what happened previously, whether that is Amelia Earhart’s disappearance or a reimagined Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy repeats “there’s no place like home anymore” amidst alligators. 

This poetic investigation finds that pain and love are intertwined during these trials. A songbird that appears dead awaits its burial, but when the poet is ready to place it in a newly dug grave, the bird has vanished. This different type of loss brings new emotions. The poet implores that “I need you / to know I would have kept you, and loved you / most, had you never escaped my hands.” The past, present, and future are tinged with wondering what could have been if details had been altered. 

The Gulf Coast storms raging throughout this collection are out of control, but they do not only consist of fury because “our lemon trees bloomed most brilliantly post-hurricane.” Specks of light also emerge. All people can do is name what they see, as the poem “Garden of Eve” suggests:

U-M anthropologist Ruth Behar sails “Across So Many Seas” through the stories of four 12-year-old girls

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ruth Behar author portrait and her book Across So Many Seas

Spanning hundreds of years and four countries, Ruth Behar’s new middle grade novel, Across So Many Seas, features four 12-year-old girls, each facing their own momentous challenge. 

Behar, a University of Michigan professor, will be in conversation with fellow professor Devi Mays at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, February 13, at 6:30 pm. 

The common theme among the girls’ challenges is exile. They are part of the same Jewish family, and different generations of their relatives find themselves traveling across different oceans to a new home. Benvenida journeys with her family from Spain to Naples and then Turkey in 1492 owing to the Spanish Inquisition. Reina is abruptly forced out of Turkey to forge a new life on her own in Cuba in 1923. Alegra escapes Fidel Castro’s regime with her family and relocates to the United States in 1961. Lastly, Paloma has the chance to learn about her history on a trip to Spain from her home in Miami in 2003. In fact, Paloma is the daughter of Alegra and granddaughter of Reina. 

Each move causes pain for the characters, and each new country marks a new chapter in the long history of the family. As Benvenida takes a ship from Spain to Naples, she reflects: