Poet Elizabeth Schmuhl’s "Premonitions" makes connections to the natural world

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Elizabeth Schmuhl and her book of poetry, Premonitions

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. 

Building a Steampunk: An Ann Arbor writer-editor navigates the self-publishing world

WRITTEN WORD

Queen of Clocks book

Artists, whether of visual, performance, musical, or writing persuasions, are highly imaginative and generally motivated individuals. The trouble with surrounding yourself with creative people is that you want to create. You throw ideas out there, bounce them around; sometimes they land, sometimes they float away into the ether. It’s most fun when they land, but that can also mean a lot of hard work for these ideas to claw their way to fruition. 

For example, a year of pummeling away at stubborn obstacles, wrangling six other people, recruiting still more people to help in the fight, battling back and forth with a totally uncooperative corporate entity whose official help policy is “we don’t help.” It’s frustrating, it’s time-consuming, and it’s so worth it. Seeing your name on the printed page provokes a singular, feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. Before long, you’ve forgotten all the pain and miserable moments, and you can only think about doing it again.

Past, Tense: U-M grad Akil Kumarasamy's "Half Gods" is a masterful debut

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Akil Kumarasamy, Half Gods

Akil Kumarasamy photo by Nina Subin.

“The past is never dead," wrote William Faulkner. "It's not even past.”

The past is always present and rarely quiet in Akil Kumarasamy’s masterful debut novel, Half Gods

The Sri Lankan civil war lasted more than 25 years, officially ending in 2009. The 10 interlinked stories in Half Gods tell the story of Nalini and her family, for whom the war is neither dead nor past. After the slaughter of her mother and brothers, Nalini and her father escape to New Jersey with their grief following right along with them. The stories travel through narrators with some of the focus on Nalini as a child and then as a grown woman with children of her own. Other stories include a man in Sri Lanka looking for a missing child, a butcher from Botswana transplanted to New Jersey who falls in love with Nalini all told through short stories. 

A2 author Lillian Li explores relationships, context, and proximity in her debut novel

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Lillian Li, Number One Chinese Restaurant

Author photograph by Margarita Corporan

How do obligations and desires compete in our lives?

Three generations of characters, family, and friends grapple with those two often opposing components in Number One Chinese Restaurant, the debut novel by Lillian Li.

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. 

Vision for Flint: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha's “What the Eyes Don’t See” tracks the city's public health crisis

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Mona Hanna-Attisha, What the Eyes Don't See

Photo by Mike Naddeo

While it’s easy to see the Flint water crisis as a story of government failing the people it’s supposed to serve, it’s a lot more than that. It’s also the story of a resilient community, the determined people who live there, and the activists who helped bring the situation to light.

Those stories meet in the work of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the pediatric residency program at Hurley Medical Center. She played a pivotal role in the crisis, conducting research and publicizing results that showed how lead levels rose alarmingly in Flint children after the city switched its water source.

Now “Dr. Mona” has published a book about her experience, What the Eyes Don’t See. She will discuss the book at Rackham Auditorium with Chris Kolb of the Michigan Environmental Council, an event sponsored by Literati Bookstore and the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, where Hanna-Attisha earned her bachelor’s degree (under its earlier name, the School for Natural Resources and the Environment).

“I never set out to write a book in my career,” Hanna-Attisha said in a recent phone interview. “It’s not about Flint, it’s about who we are and who we want to be.”

Rocket Ride: Anne and Jerzy Drozd's "Science Comics: Rockets - Defying Gravity"

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Science Comics: Rockets - Dying Gravity front cover and page

Everything I learned about rockets as a kid came from a Kiss song. That's rather unfortunate because I found out much later that "Rocket Ride" was not, in fact, about space travel but rather very Earthy matters.

If only I had Anne and Jerzy Drozd's Science Comics: Rockets - Defying Gravity to guide me rather than a subliterate Ace Frehley jam.

Michigan’s extensive role in modern design among Kerrytown Bookfest highlights

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Wayne State University's McGregor Memorial Conference Center

McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, 1958. Architect: Minoru Yamasaki & Associates. From the book, Michigan Modern: Design That Shaped America, edited by Amy Arnold and Brian Conway of the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. Jim Haefner, MI State Historic Preservation Office.

If you don’t necessarily consider Michigan a hotbed of the modern design movement, you’re not alone. But two recent books aim to change that perception, and their authors will appear in Ann Arbor this weekend as part of the Kerrytown Bookfest.

“People do not think of Michigan as a design center," says Brian Conway, Michigan’s state historic preservation officer. "They think of New York or Los Angeles but skip over the Midwest. But there was this very strong design industry here in Michigan, and it actually still exists.”

Art forms will come together at Rasa Festival's "Poetry Through the Ages"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rasa Festival's Poetry Through the Ages

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."

The Evil That Men Do: Alice Bolin’s "Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Alice Bolin and her book Dead Girls

Without a doubt, Laura Palmer’s corpse remains one of the most enduring images to come out of ‘90s television.

Anyone who has watched the Twin Peaks premiere (either at the time of its airing or as part of the younger, revivalist crowd) is certain to recall the eerie impression that Laura is simply sleeping, bound to wake up any minute -- this despite, of course, the fact that she is quite clearly “dead, wrapped in plastic.”

The shot is memorable, perhaps, not so much because of any particular aspect of the composition, but because of the horrible incongruity of its visual and dramatic elements. The viewer is presented with a face apparently at peace, the only hints of death’s presence being the pallor of Laura’s flesh and the slight blue tint of her lips. Faraway from the brutality of Laura’s murder, the image is at such a great remove from the horrific violence behind it that it sits with us in a way that is particularly uncomfortable. But more than that, the image is important for its symbolic significance, for what its very presence on our TV screens says about the way we think and the stories we tell ourselves as a society.

Alice Bolin takes the idea of this symbolic significance as her jumping-off point in a remarkable new collection of essays -- aptly titled Dead Girls -- which she read from on August 17 at Literati Bookstore. A sprawling mosaic of analysis, cultural criticism, and memoir, Bolin’s collection touches on much more than the phenomenon of the “Dead Girl” in the American popular imagination, despite its title.

Road of Life: Laura Bernstein-Machlay will discuss her essay collection, "Travelers," at Literati

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Laura Bernstein-Machlay and her Travelers book

There’s a moment near the end of Laura Bernstein-Machlay’s new book of essays, Travelers, in the middle of the author’s conversation with a friend on page 163, when she makes the comment, “I’m a liar … I’ve lied to everyone I know. I lie to myself every damn day.”

Out of context this excerpt might seem to cast the speaker in an uncharitable light -- an appearance that is ameliorated by having come to know the narrator as a genuine and warm person over the course of the previous 15 essays -- but it’s worth mentioning because it speaks to the heart of one of the challenges inherent in the genre Bernstein-Machlay has thrown herself into with this book. When taking oneself as a subject, how can you ever be sure that the truth is what you think it is? How can you weed out the false from the real in the stories we tell about ourselves, reinforced through repeated use?

“I had to be as honest with myself as I possibly could,” Bernstein-Machlay said in an interview. “And that meant moving past the lies I was so easily telling the world. So much that I was telling them to myself. And they weren’t big lies, they were just the stories about yourself that get you through the day.”