I attended the Woodward Line Poetry Reading last night in Detroit. The reading was supposed to be inside the Scarab Club, a lovely building across the street from the Detroit Institute of Arts (right across from the movie entrance). However...the building was locked. Fortunately, it was an absolutely fantastic evening, and just around the corner is the little known (okay, I never noticed it before even though I've driven by it numerous times) Hudson's Art Park---a semi-circle cement bench with a hedge of fauna behind it looking in on a structure that reminded me of a sail. As there were 24 people there, it worked out perfectly in terms of having enough spots for everybody to sit around the poet reading.
The outdoor aspect was interesting--it brought some charm, the birds chirping from the Scarab Club, or the hum or electricity from the building to the south--as well as some hurdles, the cars whizzing by occasionally on John R. and what I assume were freighter horns two times. But the temperature was perfect--not too warm out, and not remotely chilly. Just the simple realization that there's a little spot like this a mere block or two off of Woodward Avenue that you could stop and sit and read in semi-peace was great to find out.
James Hart III is the co-head of this reading series and he did introductions last night---not always perfectly loud enough but in each case just enough was audible and his enthusiasm for the upcoming poet was always very clear.
First up--Matthew Landrum--lives in Detroit, teaches high school.
Matthew was a good, solid reader. Loud enough, made sure to make some eye contact with his audience--realized there was a semi-circle and moved a bit to get each of us that "front row" seat every poem. The first poem he read was a translation of a poem by Agnar Artuvertin (sorry, there's supposed to be an accent over the u) from his collection: Hin Einsami Frelsarin (or, The Lonesome Savior), published by Cold Hub Press, translated from the Faroese by Matthew himself. Faroese is language known to about 50,000 people worldwide, mainly in the Faroe Islands, between Scotland and Iceland. If I'm not mistaken, there was a great line referring to the body as "flop house flesh and bones."
Next up was a poem Matthew had written for Tupelo's 30 in 30 annual poetry month challenge. It was titled "My Second Daughter," that began:
One day, if you do exist one day
that was simply heartbreaking. A poem to a hopeful eventual second daughter to at least partially replace the first that left much too soon.
Matthew finished with five more poems from his recent chapbook, Berlin Poems, that he said spun out of two four day trips four years apart from each other. These were also excellent poems full of emotion and highlighting Berlin.
I ended up purchasing both of the books Matthew brought with him--writers, be SURE to bring your works with you to readings, you never know who wants to be a little supportive of your endeavors.
Next up was Christina Kallery, and to be honest, the reason I attended--she's probably my favorite unpublished, in chap or book form, poet. I first met Christina, probably some eleven or twelve years ago now, at the home of Dwayne Hayes. It was either at an Absinthe-related party, or Absinthe board meeting (I think this one was a party). Not long after that I received an invite to go see her read at an event I believe she set up that was great (also reading that I got to see read for the first time were Norene Cashen and Jessica Bomarito, and I met James Hart III and Vievee Francis for the first time--and bought Vievee's debut collection because she had copies with her!). I was blown away by all four and continued to catch Christina read when she did over the next few years. There's a reason that Christina is the only person that I've asked to contribute to the Emerging Writers Holiday Gift Email more than once--I love her work and find it haunting in the best ways possible.
She too read to the entire audience, and probably read louder than she ever has in her life. She started with a poem that I've heard before and love--Swan Falls in Love with Swan-shaped Boat, a poem based on a Reuters headline she saw that captures loneliness and unrequited love in as unique a way as possible. She then read "Trying to Start the Van," a poem she wrote while living in New York about homesickness. Next up, "Missed Connections," about the section on Craigslist. Fourth was a poem for those with friends in bands titled "On the List." It had the great line that:
when plus one means having someone to watch movies with
and lastly she read "Burn Outs," that had at least two lines that caught my attention:
starter moustaches shadowing their upper lips
a black Camaro they said would never get off the blocks
I still anxiously await a book of these poems to own and read at my whim.
Next up was the best and worst part of the evening--a FOURTEEN year old named Jackson Wright read a dozen poems. Those that were directly in front of the reader reacted in great fashion to at least ten of the works. Those reactions ranged from laughter, to "Wow!" and just happy faces. Unfortunately, I might have heard a dozen words during those dozen poems. I'm amazed that somebody fourteen years old (FOURTEEN!) is working his craft as a poet AND has the willingness to read in front of an audience and look forward to seeing his name for more readings in the future so that I can get front and center (or just indoors might help). I do know he started with a poem he wrote in the 3rd grade that his mother recently found. And the 6th poem was a numbered poem as well. I do hope to get another chance to hear this young man read in the future.
The fourth and final reader of the evening was Marcella Harb (who also happens to be Jackson's mother). She read five poems, each of at least a couple of pages in length. She didn't always start off with the title of the poems (and I have no idea, they may be untitled), but occasionally led in with information. She started her first poem noting that he name meant Jupiter, or god of war. She noted within the poem that she was Palestinian and so she had to be political, and the poem was. The line:
My name means war
jumped out at me. She followed with a numbered poem that she stated was patterned after metaphysical longing. I had some trouble following this poem and would love to read it instead--I liked many of the different ideas throughout but wasn't tying them together very well.
At this point Marcella said she was going to read some more recently written work, and I have to say I enjoyed these last three works more--they were more personal, less philosophical maybe? I think the first two poems would work better on the page than they did out loud. The last three were easier to follow--and I should also point out that Marcella was an excellent reader--loud enough, made sure everybody got that front row seat throughout, and emphasized some things in her last poem almost like a judge banging a gavel, or like Eminem keeping the rhythm (just at a slower pace than his usually is). The third poem was written while Jackson was in the school's principal's office. The fourth was titled "Ocean Rescue" and probably my favorite of her works. The last was a poem following Noam Chomsky."
It was a very nice evening, some great work was read (and purchased), and it was nice to catch up a bit. Nice to see the work being done out there and artists crossing the high wire act of showing their art in public to a live, responding, audience.