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.
"'I have a crisis for you': Women Artists of Ukraine Respond to War" acts as an archive of witness and response
"I have a crisis for you": Women Artists of Ukraine Respond to War was first shown at the University of Michigan's Lane Hall Exhibit Space last August 25 through December 16, and it was brought to U-M's Weiser Hall from January 3 through February 23.
And the curators don't think the exhibition is complete.
“I can’t say it's a finished project, because it will have afterlives,” said co-curator Jessica Zychowicz, director of the U.S. Fulbright Program in Ukraine, who also earned her Ph.D. from U-M.
She and co-curator Grace Mahoney—a Ph.D. candidate in Slavic languages and literatures, and a graduate fellow for exhibits at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at U-M—hope the multimedia exhibit keeps finding new venues beyond Ann Arbor and can serve as an educational tool, or at least serve as an archive of work in which women describe and respond to their own particular experiences of war.
"I have a crisis for you" features paintings, writing, photos, and more by:
- visual artist and sculptor Kinder Album
- photographer J.T. Blatty
- visual artist and U-M grad student Oksana Briukhovetska
- visual artist and designer Sonya Hukaylo
- filmmaker, artist, and performer Oksana Kazmina
- visual artist Lesia Kulchynska
- poet and translator Svetlana Lavochkina
- visual artist Kateryna Lisovenko
- poet and screenwriter Lyuba Yakimchuk
Zychowicz and Mahoney did their curation remotely: Mahoney from Ann Arbor; Zychowicz from Warsaw, Poland, where she moved from Kyiv when the invasion began. To inform the project, the curators drew on previous relationships they had with the artists and writers as well as their own scholarship: Zychowicz is the author of Superfluous Women: Art, Feminism, and Revolution in Twenty-First Century Ukraine, and Mahoney is the series editor of Lost Horse Press' Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Series.
Zychowicz and Mahoney recently talked with me over Zoom to discuss the exhibit. Our conversation was edited for clarity and length.
Annie Bacon and Kyle Rasche Come Together to Write the Michigan-Based Musical "The Keeper" and Perform Songs February 17 at Trinity House Theatre
Back in October, two Michigan folk singer-songwriters formed an unexpected partnership.
Ann Arbor’s Annie Bacon and Alto’s Kyle Rasche met at the Folk Alliance Region Midwest conference outside Chicago and quickly learned they would be ideal collaborators for a new musical.
“I think we both knew of each other, and I was a fan of Annie before we [had] actually met in person because she had written this amazing folk opera a few years ago,” said Rasche, who writes, records, and performs under the moniker Chain of Lakes.
Within only a few short hours of meeting Rasche, Bacon started writing the initial songs for a full-blown, stage-ready musical called The Keeper and shared them with him.
“I’d done my stalking and knew she’d be great to work with and immediately shared my dream with her to write a musical that had been germinating for a few years,” he said. “She came back to my room later to work on it with a bunch of it already written.”
Shannon Lee's Album "Stars" Follows an Emotional Journey Through Love and Loss
Shannon Lee wanted her new album to progress like an emotional journey, from the pain of a broken relationship and the loss of a loved one to the rediscovery of love. The seven songs on Stars trace that quest, though it’s a subtle sojourn.
“I’m not sure if other listeners can tell but I wanted to start the album off with my heartache and loss and have the album move toward lighter themes, which I think I accomplished,” said the Ypsilanti-based Lee.
“Anymore” and “I’ve Gone Away” cover the break-up phase, while “Brother” recounts the tragic loss of her brother on New Year’s Day four years ago and “Stars” imagines his light shining down on her. Lee then pays tribute to a fellow songwriter on “Sunni Leilani” and closes Stars with two songs, “Here to Stay” and “Sing to Me,” that revel in love.
Lee’s songs share elements reminiscent of folk and Americana artists such as Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile, Patty Griffin, and Lucinda Williams, and cites artists who were played in her house while growing up as influences.
“I always had an ear for music; ever since I was a kid,” Lee said. “I had a knack for picking out harmonies in three or more part harmony singing, too, and always found myself singing along to my dad’s records. His collection of course had Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and many more in that classic rock vein.”
Tight Fit: Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful worked their way through a car crash and a pandemic to navigate the "Narrows"
It’s been a while since local acoustic music fans have heard from Misty Lyn Bergeron, the accomplished singer, songwriter, and leader of the standout roots band Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful.
A serious car crash, a global pandemic, and other issues created some challenges and delays, but at last there’s a new album out, Narrows, and it’s more than worth the wait. It features Bergeron’s warm, expressive voice; her first-rate band, and a fresh batch of well-crafted songs about some big themes like love, friendship, and perseverance.
To celebrate Narrows, Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful are having a record-release show at The Ark in Ann Arbor on February 17.
"Jim Roll will be our special guest, and it’s also how I’m celebrating my birthday," Bergeron said. "The Ark is my absolute favorite venue, and it has been years since my whole band has been on that stage. I am so excited to share this music alongside these amazing artists. It’s going to be a special night for us!"
Bergeron is also a talented photographer, but we focused on her music in this email interview.
U-M students go back to the Victorian era in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest"
It was still early in rehearsals and cast members were beginning to master an unfamiliar language as well as a different set of values in a distant time. It was the ’90s when a queen reigned and defined an age.
No, not the 1990s, the 1890s.
That’s when Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest made its debut.
The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance will present Wilde’s giddy and ever-popular comedy February 16-19 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.
Every year musical theater majors at the University of Michigan perform in a non-musical production. It’s all part of making theater students at ease in both musical and non-musical productions and honing their skills.
Production director Vincent Cardinal, a professor of musical theater at the University of Michigan, has directed and produced scores of productions across the country and is also a noted playwright. Cardinal said Wilde makes it easier for the actors to get into the Victorian era.
“You’re never in better hands than someone like Oscar Wilde,” Cardinal said. “Wilde is going to give them great language, really great characters, and they’ll be really good. When not solving problems, they’re becoming really good at their craft.”
Jen Silverman’s absurdist dark comedy "Bonnets (how ladies of good breeding are induced to murder)" is a feisty feminist fable
Jen Silverman’s Bonnets (how ladies of good breeding are induced to murder) is so violent that it took a fight director and two assistants to choreograph it. Death by poison arrow, chainsaw, Ninja—it’s all there for your delight and horror. Even God, a character in the play who opens every scene, is powerless to stop it.
The chorus of one song in Bonnets goes like this:
Chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop
We killed a man a-piece and we just couldn't stop!
Glug, glug, glug, glug, munch, munch,
Join me for tea-time, you might not live to lunch.
Will anyone survive in the dark comedy that runs February 16-19 at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre?
Pricilla Lindsay, who directs University of Michigan theater students, says the play shifts between three eras. “Silverman picked three of the many times men have subjugated women—Salem in 1690, England in the 1890s, and France in the 1600’s, during the reign of Louis XIV. All three periods are not special but indicative of women being moved to the side. In our play, women wreak havoc and get revenge by actually murdering.”
These women don’t stop at killing their abusers.
“A young girl who is having an affair with a married man accuses his wife of being a witch,” Lindsay says. After his wife hangs, the man decides to leave for Boston—without his young paramour. ”You’re dead to me,” she declares.
In this play, that can only mean one thing.
Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works Brings The Cult Musical “Moby Dick” to the Children’s Creative Center
What’s weirder than learning that there’s a stage musical adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick?
Learning there are two, actually, one from 1990 and another from 2019.
And the Moby Dick adaptation that came first, which includes a book by Robert Longden along with music and lyrics by Longden and Hereward Kaye, is the one that local theater artist Ron Baumanis has been jonesing to stage via his company, Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works.
“Whenever I see a show, whether it’s on Broadway or the West End, I always leave thinking, ‘Would I want to do it or not,’” said Baumanis, whose Moby Dick production begins its two-week run February 9 at The Children’s Creative Center.
“When I saw this in the West End, by intermission, I thought, ‘I’ve absolutely got to do this show someday.’ … I was drawn to the weird mix of the show’s all-out hilarious comedy with British pantomime and a lot of burlesque elements.”
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.”
Voices Carry: Annie Capps Shares Stories of Vulnerability and Courage on “How Can I Say This?” Album
Annie Capps doesn’t hesitate to reveal her authentic self—both past and present—on her latest album, How Can I Say This?
The Chelsea folk singer-songwriter embraces both vulnerability and courage across the album’s dozen reflective tracks, which revisit pivotal life lessons about forgiveness, family, and growth.
“I think we’re always vulnerable, and I don’t want to take anything away from people who aren’t willing to go where I went,” said Capps about her first solo release. (She usually writes, records, and performs with husband and longtime musical partner Rod Capps.)
“Just the act of standing up in front of people and singing a song, whether it’s your own or not, is a very vulnerable situation. That’s brave, and I commend anybody who does it or tries it.”
Collectively, those thoughts merge into an overarching love letter Capps writes to her younger self throughout How Can I Say This? Forthright lyrics and demonstrative Americana-folk-jazz instrumentation provide an emotive setting as she excavates deeply buried experiences.