Stephanie Heit's New Hybrid Memoir Poem "Psych Murders" Examines Shock Treatment, The Aftermath, and How Time and Memory Move in Unexpected Ways
What do you do when the brain “acts more colander than container?”
Poet Stephanie Heit tests out an answer: “Strengthen your faith in electricity.” Her hybrid memoir poem, Psych Murders, reports on the decision to experience and recover from electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as a treatment for bipolar disorder. Psych Murders contains a number of sections, often titled with questions such as “What brings you pleasure?” and “Are you safe?”
This journey with shock therapy and other attempted remedies takes the poet to a point where:
How to swim.
Lose any sense
This path also later reaches a place where, “Hope became a location.” The poet expresses some bitterness that, “I thought they’d figure out the code. No lack of rigor. But my body didn’t respond the way the data predicted.” Still, the side effects like memory loss and frustrations do not fully define the process for Heit. Instead, Heit concludes with the poem, “Testament,” which consists of a series of “I am” statements that embrace all parts of her identity.
Shortly after the start of the book, the Murderer appears, often described in third person, but always menacing and forming his own character, as the poet observes, “…I’m not alone. I have Murderer stalking my every move.” In a distressful twist in the poem, “The Murderer: Primetime,” he gets a chance to speak and shares his goal to reach her because he states of the poet that, “She haunts me—the one who slow danced in my grip. I’ll wait.” Despite his persistence, the Murderer’s interest in suicide nevertheless does not come to fruition, a victory for the poet and us readers.
Instead, Heit describes learning to live with the circumstances. The poem, “Chronic,” shows a begrudging acceptance that:
Chronic sounds like forever. Persistent forever. With a twang to the way the “ic” sticks in the throat. Almost guttural. Starts out ok. Chron, like chronological, that domino effect, out of control falling because gravity exists. But the ending turns. I am stuck with Chronic the rest of my life. Better than Terminal unless it refers to airports. Though at least with Terminal there is beginning, middle, end. Chronic is middle with no way out.
The poet shows us how, on the one hand, Chronic comes with its downsides, but on the other hand, Chronic means being alive.
Heit is a queer disabled poet, dancer, teacher, and codirector of Turtle Disco, a somatic writing space, based in Ypsilanti. We spoke to Heit about her writing, teaching, latest book, and next project.
Award-winning poet and writer Naomi Shihab Nye set her latest middle-grade-fiction novel, "The Turtle of Michigan," in Ann Arbor
Naomi Shihab Nye is best known for her poetry—she was chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2010-15, and the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate from 2019-21.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that her newest novel for young readers, 2022's The Turtle of Michigan, is built from subtle, sharply observed moments more than a page-turning plot. (It was recently named a 2023 Michigan Notable Book and will be out in paperback on March 14.)
Set in Ann Arbor—where Nye has taught writing—Turtle begins with eight-year-old Aref (pronounced “R-F”) and his mother taking off in a plane from their homeland, Oman. Aref’s father, having flown to Michigan a few weeks earlier, reunites with them at the Detroit airport, then drives his family to their new, small apartment in Ann Arbor.
Courtney Faye Taylor explores racial injustices and the killing of Latasha Harlins in her debut poetry collection
Poetry becomes both memorial and voice in Courtney Faye Taylor's first book, Concentrate, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. The University of Michigan alum's poems honor, research, bristle, and circle back to the life and killing of Latasha Harlins, a Black girl gunned down by a Korean store owner, Soon Ja Du, in Los Angeles.
“In any black sentence, you’d love nothing more than to had made no mistake.” The opening prose poem that ends with this sentence mourns and fortifies Black womanhood. As Aunt Notrie says in the next poem, “The Talk,” it “Ain’t about trying, it’s about doing.” These lines do not let injustices lie but instead, “The poet wades into an uneasy ocean of interrogations that do not permit her any distance from what she has witnessed her entire life,” writes Rachel Eliza Griffiths in the introduction.
Some of the poems revisit history, like March 16, 1991, when Harlins lost her life. The poet starts another prose poem to outline how:
A timeline details a seriousness of events. As a diagram of occurrence, a timeline’s chief objective is to show how passed happenings caution and contaminate our contemporary sense of momentum. A professor may author timelines to teach what precedes and what follows genocide. On the overhead, Rwanda is a centipede with its head in Belgium and tail on stage of the ’05 Oscars.
The past remains with us as warning and blemish, and Taylor writes, “So I’m drawing a line.”
Other poems fashioned like Yelp reviews make stark the differences in treatment and standards among people. One of them gives two stars for “BLACK OWNED BUT HOURS WRONG ONLINE.” Such an offense garners a bolded complaint and strong consequence that “I will find a Korean store.” The loss of business for incorrect hours reinforces inequity and harshness.
Eventually, the poet goes to Los Angeles and visits the site of Harlin’s murder, “But there are no signs of murder, memorial, or resistance when I arrive. The ground is like any ground. Normalcy devastates. Stillness lies to me about history.” Taylor’s poems teach us that what is not visible is still present.
Early on, Aunt Notrie defines the word "concentrate" as “A strong, hard focus.” Taylor takes on that focus to scrutinize history through the poems. Later, Concentrate is a call to action, as in “Concentrate. We have decisions to make. Fire is that decision to make.” The word “we” leaves no one out. It is all of us who have responsibility.
Taylor is a writer and visual artist who earned her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Prize in Poetry. We spoke about Taylor's time in Ann Arbor, her poetry, and Concentrate.
It’s All Relative: Ann Arbor Author Jim Ottaviani Examines Albert Einstein’s Complexity in “Einstein” Graphic Biography
When longtime Ann Arborite Jim Ottaviani decided to write a graphic novel about Albert Einstein with artist Jerel Dye, his first concern was doing the research and trying not to drown in it.
“Deadlines are your pal in this regard, in that, there comes a time when I just have to start writing,” said Ottaviani, author of Einstein and a former nuclear engineer and librarian who previously worked at the University of Michigan.
“I cannot put it off one more day, one more minute. Now, this doesn’t stop me from sometimes thinking, ‘I should just read this one other thing.’ But then you quickly realize there’s a hundred more things you could read, too.”
Ottaviani speaks from experience, having already published similar graphic novels focused on science giants like Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman. The amount of content available on those icons initially gave him some pause, too, but the resulting books’ success made a convincing case for a project focused on Einstein.
“Everybody knows the name Einstein, and they know that he’s associated with relativity, but few people know why it’s important or what it is,” said Ottaviani. “The hope is that after reading this book, people will at least know what it is and why it’s important to physics. Yes, there are equations in the book, and they’re accurate, but they’re mostly there as set dressing.”
U-M Professor Kiley Reid’s Novel “Such a Fun Age” Is the 2023 Washtenaw Read Book
The 2023 Washtenaw Read is Such a Fun Age by University of Michigan professor Kiley Reid, whose plot-driven novel details what happens and how people feel amidst misunderstandings and omissions around a recent run-in and past hurts.
Reid is having a talk, reading, and Q&A session at the Downtown Library February 5 at 4 pm.
The lives of characters Emira Tucker and Alix Chamberlain very quickly intertwine in ways beyond their relationship as babysitter and mother of a toddler, respectively. From the description on the book jacket, readers know going into the book that Emira, who is a Black woman, is confronted for having Alix’s white child, Briar, at a food market late in the evening. This unexpected and unfair confrontation leads to connections, coincidences, and consequences that unfold throughout the rest of the book. The ensuing events are best experienced page by page as one reads.
Reid develops each of the main characters with their own flaws. The characters’ actions raise dilemmas based on how much they know and what their position is in each situation. Perhaps one lesson is that one’s intentions do not always make things right. Mrs. Chamberlain illustrates this in an overbearing statement to Emira:
“You might be too young to understand this right now, but we have always had your best interests at heart. Emira, we, we love you.” Mrs. Chamberlain threw her hands up in surrender as she said this, as if loving Emira was despite her family’s other best interests.
Poet and EMU Lecturer Andre F. Peltier Imagines New Contexts for Pop Culture Icons in Recent Chapbook, “Poplandia”
Part tribute, part humor, and part elegy, the new chapbook Poplandia by Andre F. Peltier centers on epic moments, including epic scenes in movies like the "Yub Nub" Ewok celebration to epic memories like recalling the purchase of a new record when it was released. The poet lives partially in this world and partially in others by reviving late 20th century childhood longings, such as to live in the Star Wars galaxy, among others.
One such dream deals directly with poetry itself:
Intro to Poetry anthology.
Dial up a poem on
Go to open mic poetry nights
or listen to slams in coffee houses.
Find a poem
that won’t be improved by adding
It can’t be done.
In Peltier’s perspective, life, literature, films, shows, and music should be interchangeable and allow humans and characters to cross boundaries between worlds or break through the fourth wall.
Aaron Burch's perspective-shifting “Year of the Buffalo” tells the tale of a road trip to reconciliation
Aaron Burch captures the spirit of a road trip in his novel, Year of the Buffalo. The long drive sets the stage for bonding, observations, and memories shared between brothers Ernie and Scott as they travel from Washington state toward Detroit.
In this third-person novel, the focus shifts from character to character. On the road, Ernie reflects:
They were doing it. He’d agreed to the trip not because of any desire to return to Michigan but just because. Because he had no reason not to, because it seemed like Scott wanted him to go, because why not? But wasn’t this what roadtrips were supposed to be? Revelatory and epiphanic and life-changing and life-answering and everything else about life that he was searching for, everything he thought the farm might be able to be and now believing a cross country roadtrip was definitely going to be. There was a simplicity to the moment—two guys driving, taking their time, without consequence.
Travel by car—or SUV for Ernie and Scott—may be all those things, but the journey also emphasizes the tension and strong need for reconciliation between the two siblings.
The road trip takes on a life if its own as the two men discover secrets about each other. Scott, once a professional wrestler, grapples with the distinction between his persona and self, as does Ernie. The wrestling persona of Mr. Bison must come to life again since the brothers are on their way to promote Scott’s new video game. One of their many interactions reveals the pressure that comes from its reappearance:
Author and Former Literati Bookseller Mairead Small Staid Narrates Travels in Italy and the Search for Happiness in Her Book of Essays, “The Traces”
Happiness may be elusive, but the quest is part of the experience.
“Happiness is the endpoint and the race itself, the finished vessel and its firing,” writes Mairead Small Staid, an author, librarian, a University of Michigan alum, and former Literati bookseller.
Her new nonfiction book, The Traces: An Essay, recounts the author’s time in Italy, studies the concept and feeling of happiness, and critiques art and literature. Staid’s chapters form individual essays that roam through concepts such as whether a person is different when in different places and look at sculptures and paintings by artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Italo Calvino’s novel, Invisible Cities, is a focal point to which the book repeatedly circles back.
The exploration itself brings novelty and thus pleasure. Staid writes that, “Here lies another possible explanation for my happiness, this sustained and sustaining newness: it’s November, after all, and still each ordinary day—each breakfast, each cigarette—is tinged with cinematic light.” The fresh sights and circumstances can reinvigorate one’s outlook.
Fifth Avenue Press celebrated the release of five new books by Ann Arbor-area authors and illustrators
Last fall, the Ann Arbor District Library released five new literary works on its Fifth Avenue Press imprint, which focuses on works by local writers:
by Amy Hepp
School’s out and first-grade teacher Emma Richards is desperate for a vacation. Two weeks in a gorgeous lodge in northern Minnesota is a perfect way to escape the congested city and the reality of her failed marriage. Much to her surprise, a registration error lands her in the middle of a 10-day canoe camping adventure through the rugged wilderness of the Boundary Waters with an eclectic group of campers including Mark, a handsome teammate who is looking to soothe the ache of his recent loss. Together, they face miles of open water, storms, bears, and steep portages in the Boundary Waters. But the biggest challenge might be opening their hearts.
Ann Arbor Adventures: Visit to the University of Michigan's Museum of Natural History
Ann Arbor Adventures: Visit to Matthaei Botanical Gardens
both written by Ashlee Edens and illustrations by Nicole Ray (Sloe Gin Fizz)
Ann Arbor Adventures is a picture book series that captures the magic of the city of Ann Arbor. In Visit to the University of Michigan's Museum of Natural History, a family of beavers explores the recently constructed building and learns about Michigan ecosystems, fossils, the solar system, rocks, minerals, and so much more. In Visit to Matthaei Botanical Gardens, a family of squirrels wanders through the conservatory looking at tropical plants and cacti, visit the outdoor gardens and bonsai, and explore the trails as they learn what blooms all year long.
Skip, the Stone
written and illustrated by Emily Siwek
A wave carries Skip, the Stone from the safety of the lake bottom all the way to the surface and he's not sure if he'll sink or swim. Embracing the unknown, the Petoskey stone’s true nature is revealed as generations experience the joy of discovery, the timeless nature of memories, and the unexpected delight of letting go.
My UnBEElievable Life
by Rebecca and Owen Wittekindt
This colorful, hardcover children’s picture book takes you into the hive as one worker bee tells you about her life. From the first stages of development and through all her jobs in the colony, you learn through whimsical verse all the amazing things bees do in their short yet productive lives.
On December 2, 2022, AADL hosted a reception at its Downtown branch to celebrate the release of the books; below is a video of the event where the authors talked about their work and their creative processes:
In Conversation: New AADL Video Revisits Dur e Aziz Amna's "American Fever" Debut Novel and Summer Event
A new Ann Arbor District Library video featuring a conversation with authors Dur e Aziz Amna and Julie Buntin is now available.
Recorded on August 26, 2022, it spotlights Amna discussing her debut novel American Fever.
In American Fever, Amna tells the story of 16-year-old Hira, who's on a yearlong exchange program in rural Oregon. Hira must swap Kashmiri chai for volleyball practice and understand why everyone around her seems to dislike Obama. A skeptically witty narrator, Hira finds herself stuck between worlds.
Kirkus calls American Fever "a funny and affecting novel ... a wonderful new spin on the coming-of-age story. A smart, charming debut."
Hailing from Rawalpindi Pakistan, Amna now lives in Newark, New Jersey. She graduated from Yale College and the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan. Amna also has been published in the New York Times, Financial Times, and Al Jazeera.