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.

Your Choice

“ ‘Accounts are not quite settled between us,’ said she, with a passion that equaled my own. ‘I can love, and I can hate. You had your choice. You choose to spurn the first; now you must test the other.’ ”

— Arthur Conan Doyle (May 22, 1859-July 7, 1930), Scottish physician and writer of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries

I am an introvert; accordingly, it is not intuitive for me to ask personal questions of people unless I am reporting a story, and it has been a long while since I have done that. But I have fallen into this rabbit hole called blogging; and well, now I need something to blog about. That means going out and doing more, talking, and, most of all, watching and listening more. Consequently, I have chosen to train myself to inquire more of others beyond commenting asking that generic “how’s it going?” question that rarely elicits a substantial response.

What started off as an experiment from a dubious social scientist is paying off. In recently talking to a student and employee at a local diner I frequent, I learned a few things:

  1. Her hair grew down past her bum in just one year. Because it grows so quickly, she cuts it yearly and donates her hair to oSONY DSCne of those places that makes wigs for children with cancer.
  2. She needs to figure out what to do with her hair this year because she discovered this venture to which she has been donating does not gift the wigs but instead sells them. Should she a.) Donate anyway? Or b.) Find a venture that gives away the wigs? And,
  3. Her family may soon disown her.

“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.”

— Wayne Dyer (May, 10, 1940- ), native Detroit author, and teacher

“Given a choice between grief and nothing, I’d choose grief.”

— William Faulkner (Sept. 25, 1897-July 6, 1962), American author (“As I Lay Dying”)

In my practice conversation, I asked the woman—we’ll call her Amy—how medical school was going. Turns out, she just finished her first year but found it far too stressful to continue and dropped out. Unfortunately though, her parents have given her a mandate: Become a doctor or be disowned.

Before settling on getting a bachelor’s degree in English I had a few (ahem) college majors: Marketing, criminal justice, psychology, sociology, journalism, and eventually English. Those were the official majors. I also “focused” on film, anthropology, and art history. The problem was I enjoyed nearly every elective I took. As a result, I delayed making a decision about my major and graduated with considerably more than the minimum number of credit hours.

Even if a long list of other degrees have pingponged around Amy’s brilliant long-haired head, it it seems Amy has only two choices: Become a doctor and maintain a relationship with the parents that raised her and the cousins, uncles, and grandparents here and abroad whom she calls family… or not. Tough choices.

“Character is the sum and total of a person’s choices.”

P.B. Fitzwater, author and theology professor (birth dates not available)

While Amy’s action items are limited, she has an abundant of choices when it comes to attitude. She can select to fret, get angry, or to dwell in a positive state. Choosing joy should not be a tough choice but for some of us, joy does not seem like an option. Instead, we cherry pick and wind up with a basket of bitterness, unforgiveness, worry, condemnation, and so on.

Upon recently making the difficult choice to change not only jobs but also industries, I afile0001944359944m now working with a new team. One person on my crew—let’s call him Ralph—is probably the happiest adult I have ever encountered. Being a grizzled, jaded former journalist, I at first thought something was wrong with Ralph. He is so incredibly gleeful that he bounces when he walks, often walking through the office on his very tiptoes. What I have learned, though, is Ralph just chooses to be happy. He is quite intelligent and knows what he likes and does not.

Because Ralph has made the choice to enjoy life and because I made the choice to learn how to talk to people, I have made a new friend.

Me: I am not much of a conversationalist; I am not good at talking to people I don’t know.

Ralph: That is the most important thing in life! That’s how you learn!

When people are being more negative than he prefers, Ralph plainly turns away from them, choosing not to participate. When Ralph finds a funny joke, photo, or video to share—even if the time may not seem appropriate to others—Ralph shares, because it makes him glad. As a result, he spreads that gladness.

Now that is a choice worth making.

© Leslie Green 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 Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.