Beyond the Birds: Ann Arbor Poet Ed Morin’s "The Bold News of Birdcalls" explores nature, relationships, and work

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Ed Morin and his book The Bold News of Birdcalls

The Bold News of Birdcalls by Ed Morin is not just about birds. Stories about people, relationships, work, and news occupy his poems. In “Moments Musicaux,” with a dedication to “my sister Audrey,” we read about her birth, marriages, and children. We learn that “Her last words to me were, ‘You’ll look younger if you get your hair cut more often.’ ” Morin sees both the gravity and the humor in his subjects. 

Morin’s poems that do focus on nature or birds are not without the poet’s opinion. The poem “Icicles” says, “February is a sallow miser who hoards / what little daylight is left in the world.” Yet the collection is also not without appreciation for the natural world. We see how industrious birds can be, as “Housing for Wrens” offers the lines “along comes the plain-brown-wrappered wren, focused as a meter reader, from yard / to yard appraising birdhouses for nesting.” This poet not only observes the wren but also admits in another poem that: 

Julie Babcock's poetry book "Rules for Rearrangement" considers how to carry on after a sudden loss

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Poet Julie Babcock and her book Rules of Engagement

University of Michigan lecturer Julie Babcock’s recent poetry collection, Rules for Rearrangement, offers a journey to discover what those rules are. The book charts a thorough and far-reaching path through memories and ways to persist when someone has disappeared from one’s life. 

The Ann Arbor poet writes, “Everyone is filled with a heavy combination / of blockage and sun.” The obstruction and brightness feel relatable. People have their burdens and their joys. 

How might someone go about rearranging both what weighs them down and what buoys them? A stanza in a section called “Arson” asks for the following: 

Introduce your new self and explain your need. For instance: I need rules for
           rearrangement. For instance: I need to box memories. I need to let my 
           objects know it’s not them.

For Babcock, it can be a matter of space and objects. That same poem goes on to discuss how “Empty space you uncover will be awkward and shy.” Yet, “Former free space you cover will be angry.” This negotiation illuminates the effort it takes to design spaces, things, and even life differently than what they were before. The poet both rails against and is curious about the things around them and what happens to them. 

At the end of the collection when “He returns from the dead so they can discuss Bob Dylan who won the Nobel / prize for literature,” it becomes clear that the rules may be malleable and dependent on how someone approaches them because "'My love,' he says, 'nothing is every one thing.'" Allowing for this multiplicity offers permission for whatever way a person moves forward in the wake of a traumatic event. 

I interviewed Babcock about her new book, writing, and novel in the works.  

Ann Arbor's Quite Scientific label looks back at its beginnings and readies a relaunch

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Quite Scientific logo and album cover collage

The Quite Scientific record label began out of failure.

In 2005, Justin Spindler and brothers Brian and Jeremy Peters had the idea to shed more light on their local Lansing music scene. Justin and Brian gathered songs for a compilation album that they’d release under a yet-to-be-determined name, and in the process, they met members of the band Canada.

Canada had self-released the How Dare You EP and had the song "Hexenhaus" on another compilation, which is what caught the ear of Justin and Brian. They were so impressed with that tune they struck a deal with the band to release a full album.

The compilation record never came together, but Canada's debut album did.

Brian Peters recorded, engineered, and mixed what became This Cursed House in his bedroom/living room in Lansing during the fall and winter of 2005 using a soundboard used to mix portions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

“I bought it from a studio in Kentucky,” says Brian. “It was used by a studio that Industrial Light & Magic outsourced work to. It made for a good thing to catch people’s attention in the press release.”

Ann Arbor poet David Jibson on Crazy Wisdom's Poetry Circle, "3rd Wednesday Magazine," and his new book, "Protective Coloration"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Book cover for David Jibson's Protective Coloration

 

It’s well-known that the life of a poet often means being attentive to the world around oneself, seeing parallels between things or living beings and their thoughts, actions, ideas, and values. David Jibson, co-host of the Crazy Wisdom Poetry Circle, uncovers these connections throughout the poems in his latest book, Protective Coloration

The collection’s title is made clear by the poem of the same name, in which a restaurant scene unfolds "with the poet of a certain age, hidden in a corner booth / at the back of the cafe, as quiet as any snowshoe hare, / as still as a heron among the reeds.” There, we see the poet blending in while also taking in the view. Jibson welcomes the reader to join him in seeing striking insights through straightforward language, like the person in “Amy’s Diner” who, while studying the group of men in baseball caps eating the senior special, gets the invitation to “Pull up a chair.”

As people in another poem speculate while preparing and waiting for the arrival of guests, they are “as ready as we’ll ever be, / realizing, now, how much time has passed / since we last dusted in the corners of our lives.” The poems encourage readers to wonder at such things in their own lives. 

Designing the Future Funk: Kawsaki's music looks to the past to explore an imagined aftertime

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Kawsaki

Time is a flat circle.

Kwame Sakyi Jr. is a man out of time. 

Or rather, his musical alter ego, Kawsaki, is a composer out of time.

Or maybe Kwame Sakyi and Kawsaki are right on time.

That's the thing about modern music that draws deeply from the past: what at first sounds retro gets reclaimed as futuristic.

Or an imagined future.

Or an alternate contemporary reality.

Retrowave evaporates into vaporwave and shapeshifts into future funk.

All of this to same Kwame "Kawsaki" Sakyi Jr. makes contemporary retrowave that looks forward to future funk misted with vaporwave to create a sound that encompasses the past 45 years of synthesizer music.

And he's a master at doing it.

But for Sakyi, an Ann Arbor native in his late 30s who now calls Detroit home, a different genre of music first turned him onto retro styles.

The Triumphant Resurrection of Nickie P

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Nickie P

When Nickie P is on the mic, she commands a room.

The hip-hop artist also known as Nicole Price Smith stalks the stage with supreme confidence, projecting joy as she rips through speedy rhymes with the confidence of a Formula 1 car hugging the pavement.

But when she was younger, the 36-year-old Smith wanted to belt out tunes, not rap them.

"When I first started performing, I wanted to be a pop singer," she said in an email interview. "I took vocal lessons as a kid and studied genres like Italian opera and Broadway, which is what they had me perform at local music events. But at the time, I really wanted to be a big pop singer like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, who were very popular at the time."

It was her brother and Seven Chakraz bandmate Kevin, aka Esque, who shifted Smith's attention to hip-hop.

"He would pull me in his room and play me tracks by Wu-Tang Clan, KRS-One, Mobb Deep, early Eminem, and the like," Smith said. "From there I started listening to artists such as Bahamadia, Lil Kim, Jean Gray, and Lauren Hill ... [whose] vocal stylings paired with her colossal rhyme style is unforgettable and it has driven me for many years. More recently, I have really been influenced by artists like Atmosphere, Sa-Roc, and Brother Ali on the Rhymesayers record label."

Like Hill, Smith blends her rapping and singing talents into a compelling whole on a new EP, The Collective ThoughtThe record was a long-time coming, too: It's been five years since Smith's last single, "Soma," which was more of a soulful singer-songwriter tune, and eight years since her album, the rap-based The Triumphant Rise & Tragic Existence of Sick Nick.

The answer to why there's been big a gap between releases is layered and complicated.

"Common" People: Ken Meisel examines and celebrates Detroit in his new poetry collection

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ken Meisel's book Our Common Souls

Detroit is many things to many people. Ken Meisel’s poetry collection Our Common Souls: New & Selected Poems of Detroit outlines these many views through substantial narrative poems that tell stories about the city. The wide-ranging poems examine specific places in the city, people such as its famous musicians, and historical events, including riots, the World Series, and Devil’s Night.

The collection opens with a poem called “Detroit River, January, 1996” that sets the scene for both the book and its perspectives of the city: “River on this coal-blasted shore, / River whose name now starts with a fist, / ends its knees in St. Lawrence.” The poem concludes with an emphasis on the river’s persistence, “River of sunken beer bottles, churn on,” just as the place will carry on through time and everything that has happened there. 

The poet peers at the various scenes and underbelly of the city, not overlooking the rough edges, as the poem, “The Gift of the ‘Gratia Creata,’” with a note setting its location in “Hamtramck, MI” declares:

Streets of Your Town: Jeff Vande Zande’s new short story collection focuses on "The Neighborhood Division"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jeff Vande Zande's book The Neighborhood Division

In the neighborhoods, streets, homes, rooms, and basements of author Jeff Vande Zande’s new short story collection, The Neighborhood Division, people live out their lives, their relationships, and their struggles. 

Yet, something is always a little unsettled. A car that follows a character on his run, with threats emerging from the driver. The paranoia of being mugged haunts a female character. A man lives shackled in the basement, unbeknownst to the residents. A neighborhood, where no outsiders are supposed to come in, restricts its residents under the guise of making lives better for them.  

These stories peer into the disarray of lives behind the four walls that they call home and also question the character’s choices. In the story called “That Which We Are,” a widower reflects on his marriage. His wife used to save money during the year so that she could give it to people in need during the holidays. Yet, he coveted the money for household expenses and splurges, like a television. He reconsiders:

From the Fifth Estate to Ann Arbor: Harvey Ovshinsky's new memoir recalls his agitating and publishing days in Detroit

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Harvey Ovshinsky and his book Scratching the Surface

Ann Arbor’s Harvey Ovshinsky faced a problem when he settled in to write his memoir, Scratching the Surface: Adventures in Storytelling.

“I sat down with Kathryn [Wildfong] at Wayne State University Press, and she said, ‘Oh, my God, Harvey, there are three or four different books in here. You’ve got to pick one,’” Ovshinsky said. “I have all these dots and I really felt the need to connect them, and I knew I could. … What they all had in common was my need to scratch the surface. And that’s when [the book] came together.”

The book's focus was originally a puzzle to solve because Ovshinsky is a lifelong restless spirit. 

With drama and humor, U-M professor Peter Ho Davies’ new novel follows a family through marriage, pregnancy, and parenting

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Peter Ho Davies and his book A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself

Family life has come into greater focus this last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. School online. Work from home. Everyone in your immediate family in the same space. 

Well beyond our one-year plus some of staying at home during this health crisis, Peter Ho Davies' new novel, A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself, sounds the depths of marriage, parenthood, and family life over many years. Davies, a faculty member at the University of Michigan, does not shy away from the pains and discomforts brought about by such arrangements, but his book also does not bypass the humor and little joys. Told in third person with the characters identified only by their roles of father, mother, and boy, readers may feel like they are on the outside looking in at the characters’ lives. Yet it’s an inside view, like a fly on the wall rather than peering through a window. The narrator homes in on the father’s perspective especially. 

Early on, challenges with a first pregnancy force a crushing decision, one that the characters process and must live with for the rest of the book. The fallout and emotions thread throughout the parents’ lives and their reflections on raising their second child. While we learn that the mother is coping through therapy, the father takes another approach of volunteering at an abortion clinic. As the father considers his earlier experience, the narrator describes: