Poet and U-M professor Linda Gregerson’s “Canopy” takes its impetus from gratitude and wonder at the saturating intelligence of the natural world
Linda Gregerson’s new book of poems, Canopy, lifts us to the heights of the treetops and also studies those who toil below where “There’s always a moment before the moment when nothing / is ever the same again.”
The single word “canopy” as the title conjures both a place to aspire to and a boundary delineating human limitations.
Gregerson teaches at the University of Michigan as the Caroline Walker Bynum Distinguished University Professor of English and directs the Helen Zell Writers Program. She is a chancellor emeritus of the Academy of American Poets and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is the author of seven books of poetry and two books of criticism, and she is the co-editor of one collection of scholarly essays.
Trees, land, and the whole environment figure strongly in these poems in Gregerson’s most recent volume. A painting on a panel of oak allows for the identification of when it was created. When shipping was a dangerous, frequently fatal endeavor on the Great Lakes, a relative several generations back “was among the ones / who did not drown. Who sold his ship / and bought a farm.” The land and the trees bring surety and safety.
The reality on the ground, however, often carries both happiness and disappointment, as a poem asks, “What is it / you love / that has not been ruined because of you.”
Canopy considers not just the ecosystem in which we live but also the current events in it, such as the COVID-19 pandemic threaded through several poems and the murder of George Floyd in “Fragment.” Yet addressing these significant events and issues leave us “bound to act and bound / to be not enough.”
Action is necessary, but the problems are much bigger than any individual.
Late-Night Journals: Former Ann Arbor police officer Peter Stipe recalls 18 years on the force in his memoir "Badge 112"
For almost 20 years, Peter Stipe served as a police officer in Ann Arbor. After getting off work late at night, “I would be amped up, go home, and write it all down,” he says. “I wrote a lot of profiles of people at work and their personality quirks.”
The result of all that late-night journaling is now Stipe's memoir, Badge 112.
The idea for putting this writing into a book came from a police inspector Stipe met while visiting his stepbrother: “After hearing me tell stories about my days on the job, he said that I should write a book.”
Stipe began by posting his stories on Facebook.
“I did my test drive there,” he says. “It helped me to figure out how long the stories should be, if I was grabbing people at the beginning, giving a satisfying payoff, and so on.”
He also had people from a variety of backgrounds proofread the material so as “not to err on any sensitive issues.”
Badge 112 is a series of vignettes that allows the reader to drop in and drop out of the book wherever they choose, and Stipe composed his prose in a way inspired by the memoirs of a famous actor.
“David Niven wrote some books about his Hollywood adventures … as a witness to what was going on around him, not as the main character," Stipe says. "I tried to model my writing on that to tell what happened as I witnessed it.”
University of Michigan lecturer Jennifer Sperry Steinorth experimented with an erasure project, which became “Her Read: A Graphic Poem”
On the pages of Her Read: A Graphic Poem, author Jennifer Sperry Steinorth finds the imp, ocean, mother, pain, love, religion, and womxn. This book of erasure poetry simultaneously works as a graphic poem with artwork from the original text “radically altered” to make new visuals and word art. The source text, which is The Meaning of Art by Herbert Read, is obscured to varying degrees, sometimes visible very faintly under paint or Wite-Out while at other times incorporated into original artwork.
Pages and lines take on new shapes as the poem is conjured from the existing words and letters. Early on, the poet describes an outlook, noting:
An Ode for the Anthem: Mark Clague’s “O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of the Star-Spangled Banner”
It seemed a little on the nose to be reading U-M associate professor Mark Clague’s new book, O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of the Star-Spangled Banner, on the 4th of July—at U-M’s Camp Michigania, no less—but that’s nonetheless when and where I absorbed enough national anthem-themed information to sweep an entire Jeopardy! category.
Indeed, to say Clague is thorough in his research would be a gross understatement.
The Pleasure Principle: The characters in Lydia Conklin’s short story collection, “Rainbow Rainbow,” seek gratification and identity
Characters in Lydia Conklin’s Rainbow Rainbow perch on the precipice of something—a decision, a change, the start or end of a relationship, or even the dangerous cliff above a quarry where people swim and occasionally fatally fall.
Each story in this collection probes personal boundaries and desires to see how far the characters will stretch and when they will run in another direction. Queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming identities inform these stories as well as the book title, which is not only the name one of the story but also an Easter egg in one of the other tales, which reveals the meaning of the appellation Rainbow Rainbow.
Conklin is the Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Fiction at the University of Michigan and they will be an assistant professor of fiction at Vanderbilt University this fall.
Throughout the large—and small—turning points the characters face, they seek out their own needs and endure the pain of loss or the fulfillment gained. When distance grows between lesbian partners living in Wyoming, one of them grasps the extent to which their connection has deteriorated because the other was secretly pursuing her passion. On recognizing the shift, the narrator shares, “The words sent a crack of pain down my neck. We’d drifted so far apart. I’d failed to recognize creative euphoria in my own partner, living beside me in the middle of nowhere for three months. What was wrong with me?”
The beginning of the end had already begun.
Take Me to the "River": Former AADL staffer Shutta Crum discusses her latest book of poetry and her path from librarian to author
Shutta Crum worked for 24 years surrounded by books.
Now the former librarian at Ann Arbor District Library is adding to the stacks she used to stock, writing both children’s books and poetry.
When asked how librarianship connects with writing, Crum talked about how the job motivated her to become an author. “I knew I wanted a book of mine on those library shelves,” she said.
Crum's latest collection of poems, The Way to the River, navigates real and metaphorical waters, from looking for osprey where “Rainwater pelts river water” to recalling tumultuous moments when the poet asks someone terrorizing her, “what door you jimmied / to escape and machete through my memory.” The ever-present passage of time surges through these lines as Crum looks back and ahead.
The Way to the River begins with the reflection “Why Poetry,” which shares a preface by Crum and her poems, “Aboutness” and “How Poetry Reframes the Moment.” Her depiction of poetry tells us, “Poems are mini stories, fleeting images, quick gestures of recognition and a lilt of music for the soul,” a statement that also aptly describes her poetry. The following poems in the book form the “colorful collage” that Crum sees in poetry.
The Return of AADL's Fifth Avenue Press: Local authors celebrate the release of their books on May 22
The Ann Arbor District Library's Fifth Avenue Press, which started in 2017, helps local authors produce a print-ready book at no cost—from copyediting to cover design—and the writers retain all rights. In return, the library gets to distribute ebooks to its patrons without paying royalties, but authors can sell their books—print, digital, or audio—in whatever ways they choose and keep all the proceeds.
Fifth Avenue launches its fourth round of books on Sunday, May 22, with a book-release celebration from 1-3 pm in the lobby of AADL's downtown location, featuring author readings from many of the imprint's 10 new titles.
Click the book titles below to jump to interviews with the authors and illustrators:
Answer Me This: U-M lecturer Phil Christman explains it all in his new essay collection, “How to Be Normal”
Phil Christman takes on the problem of How to Be Normal in his new essay collection by interrogating broad categories of life. Like his earlier book, Midwest Futures, the essays are wide-ranging. For How to Be Normal, Christman tackles topics including “How to Be a Man,” “How to Be Religious,” and “How to Care.” Christman takes unexpected turns by bringing in references including Star Wars, Mark Fisher, and Marilynne Robinson.
One of Christman’s essays, “How to Be Cultured (I): Bad Movies,” begins with a reflection on watching such films as a shared hobby his father. He analyzes Mystery Science Theater 3000, failings of adults seen through a child’s eyes, Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, among others. The issues in the films can be generalized, as Christman writes:
Time is punctuated by motherhood, the pandemic, and a family rupture in poet Carmen Bugan’s new collection, "Time Being"
Carmen Bugan’s new poetry collection, Time Being, shows how the coronavirus has meant many different things to many people and also that it put us into our own bubbles. Bugan’s isolation includes her children, garden, home in New York, connection to Michigan, and eventual divorce. Her poems chronicle the months of isolation, motherhood, the excessive losses to the virus, and the ways that the pandemic, despite upending everything, was nevertheless not the only thing happening in 2020 and 2021.
Bugan turns her outlook inward in Time Being. Part I serves as foreshadowing with the poem “Water ways” when the outcome of making footsteps on sand is that “the ocean erases them impatiently” as a parallel to the later repetitive, near-daily baking during the pandemic. In Part II when the pandemic strikes, the poems question, “But who could have imagined our / new lives six months ago?” and “Who would have known we’d be staying home / Nearly a year, the house growing around us / Like a shell, shutting out the life we knew?” The situation could not have been anticipated, as “Water ways” alludes:
Patti F. Smith taps into the stories of brewpubs, brewers, and their beers in her new book, "Michigan Beer: A Heady History"
Like the waves that crash in the magnificent Great Lakes that surround Michigan, beer and brewing has constantly moved and evolved in the state. […] Come along on a trip through the history of Michigan’s brewers and beer as we explore, region by region, the history of brewing in our great state.
But Michigan Beer reports on mainly pre-World War II businesses and their beverages. Smith highlights the “first wave of brewers” who came to the U.S. from countries like Germany and Prussia. She also describes the “second wave” who endured or sprung up after Prohibition and also struggled during WWII. The “new wave” gets a dedicated chapter at the end of the book regarding breweries in the 1980s and onward.
Michigan Beer is organized by regions of the state: the Upper Peninsula, Western Michigan, Mid-Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Southeast Lower Michigan, plus the “new wave” not divvied up by location. Each chapter spotlights numerous corners of the state from Copper County and Escanaba to Grand Rapids and Detroit, with many more cities showcased. Readers can look up their hometown, college town, or favorite vacation spot and see what breweries were once pouring there.