Location Matters: Poetry Event Sets the Right Tone

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I’m sure I heard angels sing in March the first time I walked into Signal Return Press for the Motor Signal Poetry Reading Series.

What got me were the words around the room: Words on beautiful posters, words on books, on greeting cards, letters waiting to be pressed into words on paper by machines that look hundreds of years old but not at all antiquated.

Here’s the thing… poets are used to sharing their words in all sorts of places — some comfortable and comforting, others not so. Coffee houses, bars, auditoriums, bookstores (a writer’s best friend), living rooms, even. But what Signal Return offers is the ultimate atmosphere.

Signal Return is a three-year-old nonprofit community and print shop nestled on Division Street in Detroit’s Eastern Market District. The press is partnering with Literary Detroit, another nonprofit hosting the Motor Signal monthly poetry reading series.

Birth of a literary movement

The concept for holding the series in that space came in June 2013 after Literary Detroit hosted a book release event for poet Matthew Olzmann’s “Mezzanines.”

“We had such a good time with that,” says Theo Hummer of Literary Detroit. “And Matthew said to us at that time, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we did poetry here regularly?’ So us Literary Detroit people got all excited and we slowly jumped on it.”

They tossed the concept around among the org’s 30 or so members and didn’t even have to do a hard sell to Signal Return artistic director Lynne Avadenka.

“It just seemed like an obvious connection between the written word and the printed word and the spoken word,” she says. So the group decided to go for it early this year.

Location, Location…

I love Rachel Hyman’s response to the question “Why does this place work for what you’re doing?”

“It infuses the air with this certain spirit,” says Hyman, series co-curator with Literary Detroit. “And it feels like language and poetry and words are all just in the air here. And when I’m here I feel like there’s this certain gravity. Not in a way that makes our readings super serious or academic, because I think our readings are fun and they do aim to be that.

“But I think when people walk in the door here (or at least I would hope) they think, like this is a special space, and a particular kind of space. And the reading that’s about to happen in this space is going to be different from readings that might take place in like in a living room or at a bar or any other place.”

Engaging with poetry in the print shop is like being in a safe space, a space that innately understands the nature of the craft. Jeremy Schmall and Ann Marie Thornburg, poets for the May session felt the magic.

“It’s a great environment,” says Schmall. “A lot better than reading at a coffee shop or at a bar where patrons are distracted. I’ve read at coffee shops where there’s TVs on, or bars where people are drinking. But here, it’s in the spirit of printing… everyone is seated and facing you.”

Thornburg, an animal lover and animal behavior researcher, shared poems from a series she wrote about wolves. Coincidentally, there was a poster about the phases of the moon that struck her.

“What a great typographic of the moon’s different phases,” she says.

“I’ve never given a reading at a letterpress,” adds Thornburg. “I’ve given readings in an art museum auditorium and book store, which were great spaces. This is such a nice, open space. The acoustics here are great! But also, being surrounded by letters and words and all these pieces of type felt really inspiring, a little empowering.”

Intros & Outros

The space isn’t only inviting to those who come to read. The Motor Signal hosts strive to enhance the mood further for fans of the literary arts by meeting them at the door not only with words but also with wine. And when you leave a Motor Signal Poetry Series event, you get to take a piece of the press home with you — a broadside of the poets’ names, on quality weighted paper stock. Nice touch.

© Andrea Daniel and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2014].

Andrea Daniel is a poet, publicist, freelance writer, editor, voice-over artist, BMI registered songwriter, founder of AND Communications and co-owner/operator of Dakota Avenue West Publishing. Andrea produces the Michigan Literary Network’s Internet radio show. She lives in Detroit, Mich. with her son and Terrier-Poodle-mix, Dot.

© Andrea Daniel and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Andrea Daniel and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.