Welcome to City Pulse’s third annual Poetry and Lights issue. This tradition started in December 2020, in the shadow of a devastating pandemic, with the idea of bringing our readers a glimmer of light in a dark time.
Lansing’s thriving and talented community of poets came through with verses that not only inspired and uplifted, but also dug into the pain, loss and confusion that swept our lives in that first pandemic year.
Of course, that’s what poets do all the time. The pandemic exposed our vulnerability as human beings, along with our enduring need for connection, hope and healing. Poets knew that all along. Working the wax of words into candles that burn — sometimes painfully — and glow — often beautifully — is their thing.
Meet the writers behind this year’s Poetry and Lights edition
The poets represented in the following pages had free rein to express whatever is on their minds, regardless of the overall theme, but most of them circled around to light in one form or another.
Sometimes the light fills a space of loss. Lighting a candle as she mourns the loss of a friend, Anita Skeen asks: “How many times do we, in grief, strike flint to wick to light the path ahead, to light our own diminished cosmos?”
A few poets seized their images of light from the heavens. Ruelaine Stokes invokes the “old fireball” in the sky, the sun, and its scary progression to a red giant. Connor Beeman recalls a grandfather who gazed at the stars and planets, but the poet's mood is more in tune with the recent collision of a space probe with an asteroid in “a small plume of gray dust and shattered parts.”
“Forgive me for my uncertainty,” Beeman asks.
Sometimes the light comes from unexpected sources. Jay Artemis Hull dives all the way into the inexpressible mysteries, as poets miraculously do, fending off thoughts of suicide as he keeps an eye “on the blink of a cell tower, just in case.”
Other entries are more lighthearted. Wayne Richard Pope, a self-confessed “compulsive photographer,” tossed us a brief ditty about snapping a photo of somebody’s Christmas lights while being whipped by snowflakes big enough to “deck a Clydesdale horse.”
Other poets went for straight-up inspiration. Light may be an insubstantial lifeline in a dark time, but it’s also fun.
“Let’s spangle,” poet Cheryl Caesar urges. “Flip that forgotten switch and shine, shine, shine.”
The “lights” part of this project is also part of an enduring human impulse. The simple urge to bring light to the darkness is the wellspring of many celebrations that fall in late December, the darkest time of year. From a candle in a drafty window to the gaudiest front-yard display, the impulse to flip that switch is not going away.
Raymond Holt, the photographer who captured the luminous images in these pages, got involved in photography after moving to Lansing in the early 1980s and taking a photography course at Lansing Community College, only two blocks from his house. After working the assembly line at a GM plant in his hometown of Flint, Holt was drawn to the idea of getting behind a lens for a living. He recently retired as a media specialist for the state of Michigan, leaving him free to try his hand at lighter assignments like this.
Holt calls himself “a bit of a grouch” where holiday decorations are concerned, but the more he roamed greater Lansing, looking for interesting displays, the more he realized how much they mean to people. Many residents invited Holt into their homes and told him their decorations were handed down from parents or grandparents. He came to share his subjects’ contagious enthusiasm about holiday trimming traditions and their excitement about renewing them each year.
It might have helped to boost Holt’s enthusiasm that this year, owing to an unseasonably dry early December, he didn’t have to kneel in the slush and snow to get the shots he wanted.
So, settle into a favorite sofa, stool or stump, light a candle (LED kind if you’re wary of fire) and savor a generous gift from some very talented people who happen to live in your community.
by Conner Beeman
by Wayne Richard Pope
by Ruelaine Stokes
by Cindy Hunter Morgan
by Laura Apol
by Chana Kraus-Friedberg
by Cheryl Caesar
by Anita Skeen
by Rosalie Sanara Petrouske
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