Archive December 2019

From Miami to Detroit

There are so many writers in Detroit that I am discovering. This week I want to share a conversation I recently had with local poet and editor Jeni De La O.

Jeni founded Relato:Detroit, a bilingual community storytelling series, and Poems in the Park, an acoustic poetry reading series in historic Lafayette Park. A first-generation Cuban American who grew up in Miami, Jeni came to writing from humble beginnings. “My mom grabbed some scraps of fabric from a dress she’d made me, cut up a cereal box and went at it with her hot glue gun to make me a journal,” she says about what drove her to write as a youngster.

Jeni moved from Miami to Detroit about ten years ago. “When I got to Detroit, the people felt like home, and that feeling of home lets you breathe,” says Jeni. “This city puts life and movement and connection into your writing in a way I haven’t felt or seen elsewhere.” Some of her favorite venues and events in Detroit include the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, the Brain Candy series held at Green Brain Comics, and the East Side Reading Series

I asked Jeni if she could put out a call to action to Detroit writers, what would it be? In chorus with many of the local writers I have spoken with, Jeni suggested a large gathering of literary artists or a citywide poetry festival. I truly think that there are already writers beginning to lay the groundwork for something of that magnitude in years to come. I am glad to have a voice and to highlight voices in this growing conversation.

Jeni De La O.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Poets Respond to Gentrification

On November 22, I attended “Poets Respond to Gentrification,” a reading cosponsored by the Readings & Workshops program that was part of the 2019 Words & Music Festival.

The sold-out reading was held at the Community Book Center, the only remaining Black-owned bookstore in New Orleans. There was a large, diverse crowd of attendees which included local poets. The evening began with youth jazz musicians playing classic songs including “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans.” Veteran poet Peteh Muhammad Haroon emceed the reading which featured Skye Jackson, Michael Quess Moore, Sha’Condria iCon Sibley, and Akilah Toney.

Seventeen-year-old Akilah Toney started the evening with a poem containing the refrain: “You not from here, you don’t know how it feel. You love the culture, not the people—the love not real.” Skye Jackson wore a long, black velvet, off-the-shoulder dress and delivered a poem about being born and raised in New Orleans and the tension she feels from watching the neighborhoods change. Michael Quess Moore, a former teacher and now a full-time artist, addressed colonization and the global impact of white supremacy in his poems. Moore has been on the front line of the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans. Sha’Condria iCon Sibley opened with a poem exploring the current political climate and questioned what her poem should be called suggesting, “We’re Living Between Barack and a Hard Place.”

It was great to know that these four engaging readers were able to receive minigrants from the R&W program. The reading was followed by an open mic and drinks at nearby Whiskey & Sticks, a wonderful way to wrap up a night about community.

The flyer for the “Poets Respond to Gentrification” reading.
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Houston VIP Slam

I would like to take time to focus some attention on a few of the literary organizations helping Houston shine bright. Houston VIP Slam, currently led by Houston’s poet laureate Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, is a slam team that provides community for writers who want to take their stories to the stage. Houston VIP has just celebrated ten years of their program and they show no signs of stopping.

I have been a big fan of their work and dedication for quite a while and the format for their monthly slam is so inclusive and so necessary for community building. Each slam is scheduled for the last Saturday of the month and begins with a writing workshop, a unique structure that provides time and inspiration for new work to be created. Local poets and anyone in attendance for the slam are invited to participate in a series of writing exercises led by the night’s emcee. The workshop usually takes place between 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM.  The slam begins at 8:00 PM and concludes with a featured poet taking the stage to wow the crowd. 

Houston VIP holds twelve slam events for the year, with one poet winning each slam. The winning twelve poets then move on to compete in the Grand Slam at the end of the season for a spot on the Houston VIP National Poetry Slam Team. The top five poets from the Grand Slam represent Houston at the annual National Poetry Slam.

The next workshop and slam will be on December 14 featuring Rudy Francisco. If you’re in the Houston area and looking for something to do on a Saturday night, go by. It is truly a beautiful experience. 

The 2018 Houston VIP National Poetry Slam Team. (Credit: Christy Lee)
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

A Literary Home

Lia Greenwell is a poet and essayist currently living in Detroit. We work together at InsideOut where Lia is the operations coordinator. Recently I was able to speak with Lia, who offered fresh insight on how Southeast Michigan has influenced her writing.

Originally from Adrian, Michigan, Lia first discovered the magic of writing in The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, which she describes as full of “colorful, lyrical prose.” Although the novel was assigned for school, it felt different from the other books she had been reading. “I had never seen language used like that before, especially in something that I was reading for school. Cisneros’s prose took away the idea that books all had to look and feel the same.”

Although Lia began writing as a poet, she says, “poetry felt like I had to fit my writing into too small of a format—it felt strict. Prose allowed my writing to be weird.” I personally found this very relatable as someone who started out writing (very bad) fan fiction, and thought my path in writing would be confined to novels. Much like Lia, the discovery of a new genre (for me it was poetry) allowed me to go in new directions.

Lia is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina and worked with youth writers through the Girls Write Now program in New York City. When asked about how leaving and returning to Michigan has affected her as a writer, Lia says, “I had to leave and come back to see what the landscape meant to me.” Lia has lived in Detroit for over three years, but still feels like a newcomer and enjoys discovering local venues and writers. “I think of places like Room Project. I feel like there is always something new being revealed there.”

I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with Lia and discuss the long-term transitions that a writer goes through to find their niche and community. It was encouraging and made me think of how writers often feel isolated on the journey to find their place in the literary world. In Detroit, there is a home for writers.

Lia Greenwell. (Credit: Tyler Klifman)
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.