Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Weekly Geeks: Detroit: City of Poets

This week's assignment for Weekly Geeks asks us to provide a literary tour of our hometown. One of my well-worn and loved poetry collections is Abandon Automobile: Detroit City Poetry 2001 edited by Melba Joyce Boyd and M.L. Liebler. The collection is filled with our beloved and accomplished poets like former Poet Laureate Philip Levine and Broadside Press founder Dudley Randall and Cave Canem founder, Toi Derricotte.

The poetry in 'Abandon Automobile' is beautifully visceral. There are no "thou"s or sappy sonnets about flowers in this book. It may seem simple and plain to people more accustomed to coffeeshop poetry, but it isn't once you let the words meld together. Much like Detroit is defined by what many people have done as a collective rather than what any particular individuals have done, these words together form Detroit. ~Glen Sooter

Most people think cars when you say Detroit. But Detroiters know we have a rich and diverse arts community. Detroit is teeming with literary artists including poets, Def Jam Poetry Slam Champion, Jessica Care Moore, Leslie Reese and Terry Blackhawk.

Writers have lived and written here, too. Joyce Carol Oates taught at University of Detroit and one of her novels, Them is set in Detroit. Writer, Harriet Arnow's The Dollmaker is about a family that migrates to Detroit in the thirties. Celebrated writer and playwright, Pearl Cleage is from Detroit and a couple of her plays and stories include Detroit as a setting or a hub.

I could write pages about our artists but I'll close with one, Dudley Randall. Randall founded Broadside Press in 1965, the black publishing house that help launched the careers of black writers when major houses would not look at them. Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde and Sonia Sanchez found support in Detroit's black owned publishing house. To learn more about Randall, read long-time colleague and assistant, poet and professor, Melba Joyce Boyd's Wrestling With the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press.

Dudley Randall
January 14, 1914-August 5, 2000


Randall's entire career was dedicated to poetry and poets. Through the Broadside Press, he provided black poets with a way to have their poems published at a time when it was very difficult for them to get their works in print. In addition, he edited anthologies of black poetry and was an accomplished poet in his own right. He attended literary conferences, met and encouraged other black writers, contributed articles and poems to black journals, and organized poetry readings. Randall also taught black literature at the university level and was poet-in-residence for a time at the University of Detroit.

If cars and Motown are your first images of our city, revisit us. We have a rich and diverse community of writers who have contributed significantly to the literary arts. To read more responses to this week's assignment visit Weekly Geeks.

14 comments:

Summer said...

Go Detroit! very nice post

Chris said...

Great post! I bet Detroit has a lot of interesting literary gems.

unknownwriter49 said...

gems are found in all kinds of places if you look

susan said...

Thanks Summer, Chris and unknown for reading and commenting.

Tea said...

I am glad to meet Dudley Randall. Some of the other authors I've read like Nikki Giovanni and Joyce Carol Oates. Proves there is a lot about Detroit I don't know. Thanks.

Miss Mapp said...

Intresting, lots I didn't know here - thank you.

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I visited my great-aunt in Detroit years ago, and while it was a great experience (she introduced me to crazy golf - life hasn't been the same since!), Detroit didn't strike me as the most romantic of places, and I've always thought poets lived in romantic places - the Wordsworths and the Keats. Again, I was about seven at the time, so... maybe I wasn't quite clued in on what romantic meant :)

Great post - really interesting.

christina said...

Hey thanks for sharing! :)

Florinda said...

One of my favorite novels, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, is set in and around Detroit. I read Them years ago; not one of my favorite Joyce Carol Oates novels.

Interesting post - thanks!

Linda said...

Great post. When I think of Detroit I do think of music specially Motown. Thanks for showing another side to Detroit.

susan said...

Florinda, I forgot to list Middlesex. It was very cool for me to know exactly all the places he mentioned.

Linda, I am not exaggerating about the culture scene here. We may not be the urban meccas like New York and Chicago, but we've got art!

Another, we have great poets here. And our poets like all great poets are masters of traditional verse to emerging poets shaping and evolving new poetic forms.

Icedream said...

I love that you put a lot of emphasis on poetry, Abandon Automobile sounds like a collection I would enjoy reading. Also one of my favorite books is Arnow's The Dollmaker.

susan said...

Hi Icredream, I really enjoyed The Dollmaker, too. Of course the connection between the south and Detroit resonated with me for a couple of reasons.

Rethabile said...

Mr Randall is one of my favourite poets. I like the simple way he writes strong feelings.

I was under the impression that he'd died much earlier than 2000.

Nice post