Happy Opening Day!

31 03 2014

Opening Day (of baseball season, obviously) is a big deal here in Detroit. People take off work to come downtown and tailgate, drink a lot, and have a good time (most of the time, they don’t even go to the game). For many, the official beginning of spring is Opening Day.

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It's definitely a big deal if it's on the marquee of The Fox.

I thought Detroiters made such a big deal about Opening Day just because we have a pretty good team (as you can tell I’m not a huge sports fan) but I was informed that this isn’t a thing in other cities really, good team or not.

I didn’t really celebrate Opening Day this year, but in the past I’ve gone out with friends drinking in parking lots by Comerica Park then grilling out on my roof…I live in an apartment building downtown with a sky deck that overlooks Comerica Park so my friends love it.

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My apartment is always throwing a shindig for Opening Day.

Anyway, just another Detroit tradition that people from other places may not know about…just wait until I tell you all about Devil’s Night. Haha.

What is opening day of baseball season like in your city?

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Motor Signal Reading Series

21 02 2014

So, recently I have been really trying to get back into writing, particularly poetry. I also started going around checking out open mics in Detroit. Although it is actually pretty hard to find a dependable, comprehensive, and up-to-date list of poetry-centric open mics online, once you find one, the flood gates sort of open—other people will be there passing out flyers and cards to other venues that have them. I’ve found two pretty sweet venues thus far: the L!V Lounge in Bricktown and the Bottom Line Coffee House in Midtown. I like blogging too, but there is nothing like reading a poem you created and seeing people connect with it that just gets you super inspired (at least it does for me).

I also really love attending more formal readings, and those are really few and far between in Detroit. (There’s always Ann Arbor, at least!) There are some one time events of famous visiting poets occasionally, at the DIA and such—however, it’s been hard for me to find any reading series that isn’t super stuffy and pretentious. Although it seems that tonight I have finally found one!

motor signal

Earlier this evening, I was lucky enough to attend a really awesome new reading series put together by the folks at Literary Detroit called the Motor Signal Reading Series. It took place at this really awesome hidden gem of a place in Eastern Market called Signal Return Press. The venue has awesome merchandise and broadsides with quotes and Detroit-centric themes, plus they also host classes on printmaking and allow students who have taken at least two of their workshops to rent their studio space to create their own prints/art.

prints

I am really psyched to have found out about the series and Signal Return. As far as the shop itself, they have a Business Card making course on March 1st and I am pretty sure I am going to sign up. They also have a series of classes that mix poetry and printmaking coming up in March-April, which I also really want to do, finances permitting. (You can check out the class list for the year here if you are interested!)

letters

The actual reading series has a very cool premise: to foster more audience participation in poetry, to use spoken words/poetry to unify poet and audience, and to have featured poets chose who they read with to create a more relaxed, seamless, and creative environment.

Tonight’s reading featured Jamaal May & Tarfia Faizullah, both very distinguished poets and cool people.

Tarfia currently teaches at Umich (my alma mater) and wrote a book called Seam based on her experiences interviewing ‘Birangona’—women who survived the atrocities of the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Her work was very intense, but woven with beautiful imagery. One of her poems was passed out on broadside:
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Jamaal teaches poetry and wrote a book called Hum that he read from, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. His style was almost like slam pieces, as he had such an awesome rhythm in his delivery. He read a really intense piece and the quipped, “I always say if you take ’em to Mordor you gotta be able to take ’em back to the Shire,” and then closed with the following lighthearted piece from his broadside:
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Very cool event. The next reading is on March 18th, featuring Airea Dee Matthews and Raymond McDaniel. You can find out more about the Motor Signal Reading Series and follow them on Tumblr and Facebook. You can also check out Literary Detroit on Facebook.





This Morning

19 01 2014

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This Morning
At Woodward and Mack, steam barrels out of sewer grates,
a pocket of fog two lanes wide, reminiscent of
the smog that forms over I-94 at Mount Elliot, ever present
smoke that never clears, product of the weekly 3-alarms at Packard

This plus the desolation of Detroit at 7:30am has an eerie similarity
to some shit like Silent Hill, but instead of the smoke
billowing out of a burning mine
it’s the gasps of a city on the struggle, fighting that uphill battle
‘I think i can’ ‘I think i can’
It reminds me that Detroit personified is an exasperated black woman who is tired
of you and Ficano’s shit,
who just ran for the bus and missed it, breath puffing out in
a rush and condensing
in the cold January air

Down Mack, I take the turn into McDonald’s
At the two-lane drive thru, i accidentally
make eye contact with the man ordering next to me
“hey baby, how you doin’ this mornin’? let me holla
atchu”

Flattered as I am, I wave and look down
It would just never work out
We are different people
I got my McCafe and I’m on the grind
He’s just hustlin’ on an egg mcmuffin
gangbangin’ on bacon

But you have to admire
the tenacity and hope it takes
to think that hollerin’ at a bitch in a drive-thru
will lead to something good

Fuck a statue on Jefferson
This is the Spirit of Detroit





Guest Post: Detroit is a very bittersweet experience.

21 07 2012

First of all, as a guest contributor, I should introduce myself. My name is Patrick Julius; I’m a friend of Jamie’s, and recently went out with her to take about 600 photos of Detroit’s best and worst places. Don’t worry, I’ll only show you about 20 of them.

I’ve written another eclectic blog for ages. Sometimes it will be about science, particularly cognitive science, sometimes philosophy; other times it gets rather political. Lately it’s mostly been about my own struggles with mental illness. It’s certainly a very different beast from this blog.

When we were shooting last Sunday, I knew as soon as I saw the view which photo would be my cover for the set. In the midground lush trees; in the distance a beautiful skyline—but in the foreground the mangled steel and concrete of degradation and despair. Detroit’s motto is also improbably apt, despite having been written in the 19th century: Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus. We hope for better things; it rises from the ashes.

Oddly I’ve always been something of an outsider in Detroit. Living in Ann Arbor my whole life I’ve rarely been more than an hour away, yet it feels like worlds. Actually Ypsilanti feels much the same way, and for much the same reasons—even though in terms of city centers, I live closer to Ypsilanti than I do to Ann Arbor right now, geographically. The difference is cultural and social and economic… and dare I admit, perhaps also racial? It doesn’t feel very good being the only white person in the crowd, and as much as I would like these petty distinctions to go away, wishing them so does not make it happen. As long as people believe that race matters, it will matter. And then of course we’re going to believe it matters, because it does… and on and on in a vicious cycle of Keynesian beauty contests.

The most striking thing about Detroit is how it’s all mixed in together. The abandoned buildings and walls covered in graffiti—even the overcrowded jails—are blended right into the cityscape. They aren’t neatly sequestered in some well-defined ghetto; while there certainly are better and worse parts of town, even in the middle of the city center you can find beautiful skyscrapers that haven’t been used in decades.

Even crumbling and surrounded by wire fences and razor wire (it’s sad that some people would, if allowed in, cause pointless damage to already ruined places, but this is what happens), there is a stark beauty to some of these buildings, an experience very similar to what I feel when looking at the Parthenon.

And what a sense of waste! This city is plagued above all by two things, homelessness and abandoned buildings. You don’t have to be much of an economist to see that there’s something wrong with this picture.

One also finds that in Detroit the line between “graffiti” and “artwork” is surprisingly hard to define.

There are some obvious cases in each direction: Some graffiti is just scribbled gang slogans and pornographic language and images.


On the other extreme, some walls have murals that are obviously professional, and look like they were probably commissioned.

But then there’s also this weird intermediate category, which clearly is amateur work and probably technically illegal… yet also so beautiful and creative, and may be an outlet for radical ideas that can’t find expression in mainstream venues. (I noticed a fair number of references to Occupy among these.)


I certainly don’t want to give up on Detroit; there’s been too much waste already. But the blight is everywhere, and it hurts to look at! We came upon a burnt-out house that looked as if it had been hit by a bomb.


The Packard factory is an enormous complex of abandoned and crumbling buildings that would make an ideal set for a post-apocalyptic film. Yet even within that sprawling mass of devastation lies hope: A little tree somehow found a way to grow in the floorboards of one of the upper floors. (Yes, you read that right, the upper floors; the tree has no contact with the ground. Life finds a way.)


Detroit is a city constantly struggling to rebuild itself; it never seems to recover from the last shock before it gets hit by the next. Nowhere was this more apparent than the Heidelberg Project, a success story of the triumph of creativity over adversity—in which two of the houses, after having been whimsically decorated, were recently abandoned, I would guess due to foreclosures in the 2008 crash.


Yet, there are nice parts of the city, beautiful enough to rival any other city’s postcard shots. Well, maybe not any: The best shot I’ve ever taken was still of the Sydney Opera House.



Maybe we will, after all, rebuild from the ashes. But it won’t happen on its own; we will have to do it. I think it was a mistake to make the motto resurget, and not resurgemus: It rises, abstractly, and not We rise, actively. For the city is only what we make of it; Detroit will not rebuild unless we rebuild it.

Could this be done? Could Detroit be renewed to its former glory, or even surpass it? Yes, I think it could. It’s not a question of money—in the United States today, almost nothing really is a question of money. In a nation whose GDP is $15 trillion—in other words $475,000 per second—a nation in which Congress can make out a loan for $700 billion overnight and the Federal Reserve can loan banks $7 trillion in secret cash of which $2 trillion was essentially made out of thin air… very little really is a question of money. Invading China, or building a space fountain, or colonizing Mars; now those might actually be a question of money. Ending world hunger? Bah; development economists estimate it would cost $100 billion per year, about 10% of what we spend on military and intelligence. (Why don’t we do it? Hell if I know. Honestly, altruism, kindness, and moral decency aside… it would probably be cost-effective for national security.)

No, it’s not a question of money. It’s a question of will: Is rebuilding Detroit actually a priority for America, or not? Is it something we’re willing to actually commit our labor to, the way we were willing to commit to, say, the war in Afghanistan? Are we willing to give as much and risk as much for nation-building here as we were there?

Or do we look at Detroit and see only what it is and what it was—and not what it could be?





Moving Slowly at Woodward and Canfield

22 01 2012

This is a departure from what I usually write, probably because the way I wrote it is a lot different from how I usually write.  I tried to write when I wasn’t really motivated, which rarely produces anything that doesn’t sound super contrived, but for some reason, after an hour (which is longer than I ever spend writing any poem), it came out OK.  I forgot about it for a few days, edited it today, and here’s the final product.

Moving Slowly at Woodward and Canfield

it’s always
friends lost
a little too soon

corners taken
a little too fast

an empty bottle of Jack
rolls around in the back
reminding you

you rely a little bit too much
on alcohol, poetry and such

reminding you
never to rhyme
not to remember the time

when you woke up
a little too early

they were still having sex
in the living room

and all you could hear
in her orgasm was regret

and all you could see
was red

and all you could think
was don’t ask why
ask why not…

you avoid disappointment
by changing the question.

you avoid pain
by eluding the question.

obviously, the capricious couch
will let anyone fuck on it.

humans are more reliable
than couches, of course,

so run baby run
as irrationally as you can.

the opposite of
the smart thing is to walk

alone in Detroit at night
so let’s start with that.

outside, steam rises
from the sewer grates

as if they were built
to keep the homeless warm.

blood from a roadkill pigeon
is the only thing that isn’t gray

a single feather left
on the sidewalk caked with grit

tufts of gray and red
one wing pointing

toward the sky,
looking something like hope…

red and blue light
break through the night

a harmony of sirens wail
and you are home.





PREACH

17 12 2011

I’m not religious, but this made me very happy.  Imported from Detroit bitches!





in the shadow of the book

12 12 2011

It hurts when I breathe, you say and I say
Suck it up
                it isn’t always about you.

The concrete dust never settles in Detroit.
Being stronger, better
                sometimes means putting yourself in a situation that makes you
uncomfortable,
                                vulnerable.

Grow up, get gone, get God
and you never truly learn anything about yourself
          about slow walks
                                      not-talks
                                                    the shadow of an abandoned skyscraper
telling you who you are.