The poetry scene in Lansing is lively and welcoming with spaces for every writer, from beginners looking for tips to well-published authors looking to share expertise. Twelve writers from this ever-expanding network submitted poems for this year’s 3rd annual Poetry and Lights Issue. They also shared some insight into their love of the craft and the opportunities out there for readings, discussion groups and networking, as well as the meanings and inspirations behind their submissions.
Stokes earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature, but an attempt at poetry in her youth was “so horrid” that it kept her from pursuing the craft until later in life.
“It wasn’t until I went to a poetry reading in Lansing with three young, local, women poets who were just fabulous, and I was really inspired. So, I joined a poetry workshop that Lee Upton was giving and just got really fired up by what poetry could do.”
Her poem, “Letter to the Poet at the End of Time,” was inspired by a conversation with another poet following the death of a mutual friend. She questions “In what way is the human plight and the human position so perilous, and in what way do we just need to celebrate what life and what beauty we have? In the face of the complexity and the awesomeness and the very real cruelty in life, what sense can we make of it?”
“My poem, in a way, is terrible, because it’s really about trying to comprehend death and comprehend that even the Earth will someday die and yet find an impulse to celebrate the beauty nevertheless,” she said.
Skeen helped found MSU’s Center for Poetry in 2007, noticing a lack of opportunities for poets in Lansing.
“At the time, there was the Lansing Poetry Club and some other little groups of poets, but things have exploded,” she said. “I think Lansing is a pretty great place for poets right now — a lot of readings, the Center for Poetry is bringing writers, the Lansing Poetry Club is, too. There’s a lot happening.”
She credits the Lansing-area poet laureate position for helping bring notoriety to poetry in the area.
“We’d been trying for years to get a state poet laureate, and we couldn’t get one, so we were able to get a Lansing-area poet laureate,” she said. “They have a two-year tenure before a new poet laureate is appointed, and each has a project that they want to work on during their period. They’re spreading poetry into the public schools and into the community.”
Petrouske became interested in poetry at age 16 after her father passed away. Writing helped her deal with feelings of grief.
“Back then, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I began reading as many poets as I could, trying to learn the craft,” she said. “That’s how I got started, and then I just kept writing after that and perfecting my craft. I went to workshops and worked under a lot of Michigan poets that were well-published.”
She eventually started a writer's group in Grand Ledge called Writing at the Ledges to give her a “nudge” to write poetry at least once per month.
Petrouske pointed to other organizations, including the Lansing Poetry Club, The Poetry Room and MSU’s Residential College of Arts and Humanities Center for Poetry, as some of the many opportunities for local poets. After a brief hiatus, she says Lansing poet laureate Masaki Takahashi will resume hosting The Poetry Room’s open mics at The Robin Theatre in January.
Pope wrote his first poem for City Pulse, “Confessions of a Compulsive Paparazzo,” about a self-portrait he took during a snowstorm in Okemos several years ago.
“I was photographing people’s Christmas lights in this winter storm, and so I held out a waterproof camera, and I used flash, and I took a picture of myself in front of my neighbor’s yard,” he said. “But these huge snowflakes were in the scene, and that inspired me to write the poem about being in a snowstorm, being pelted by these snowflakes and taking pictures of my neighbors’ Christmas lights.”
Pope recommends open mics and readings for interested poets, even if they’re nervous about performing their own work.
“They can at least see other people perform and be inspired by that and make friends, make contacts, get some input on their work,” he said. “They can share a couple of poems with some of the other people afterward and get some ideas on how to improve it or change the wording.”
Apol grew up reading poems with her father but didn’t start writing poetry until adulthood.
“I had things that I needed to say that I couldn’t really say any other way, and poems allowed for that kind of exploration and expression,” she said. “It’s what I tell my students as well. They make a huge leap to poetry once they discover that it’s a way to talk about things that they really care about and they really need to say."
Apol believes there is a “very lively and always-growing community of poetry” in Lansing.
“It really, right now, stretches across skill levels, across types of poetry, across age,” she said. “There are lots of venues where poetry takes place and lots of identities that poets come with, so there are places where there are people who have done certain kinds of poetry for quite long, and then there are places that are really edgy, and people are experimenting and trying out their poems for the first time. That kind of range, I think, gives a real energy to the poetry scene in the Lansing area.”
Hull recommends a daily journal practice for busy or scatterbrained writers.
“My journal is a vital practice to me as a human being but also as a poet,” they said. “When I notice a theme, two ideas that would be interesting next to each other or have something I want to expand upon, I will look back at the journal to turn the scattered impressions into a poem.”
Hull says “There is a lot happening in the poetry community” in mid-Michigan. They recommend the Facebook groups Poetry Action Network-Lansing Area and The Poetry Calendar for listings of events.
“The Coffeehouse at All Saints Church does a performance of poetry and music that I’ve only been to once but was blown away by how fun it was! Outside of Lansing proper, CADL Mason has a poetry group that reads and analyzes a different poetry book each session, and there are open mics all over the place, including a monthly one at 2 Dandelions Bookshop in Brighton.”
“People often wonder why I write poetry more than anything else,” Fox said. “Poetry, for me, is like music: It can play like a symphony or a country song. It can innovate like a jazz riff or follow a form-like pop song. I write for ordinary people. I’m not an ‘opera’ poet. I want my poetry, or at least a lot of it, to be accessible and relatable to people reading or hearing it.”
Fox has always loved writing, but the tone of her poems changed after her husband and mother died within a few weeks of each other.
“I was on my own without people who needed me to care for them. I spent more and more time writing,” she said. “I hope when you read my poem in the paper, you can relate it to the people who are no longer with you and have left your life in some way, and you get how you must mourn that loss and adjust your life as you move on, but you also understand how they are a part of your life that plays on.”
Villarreal contributed both a poem, “Reflection,” and a story about a memorable Christmas from his youth (“A Christmas wish”).
His poem was one that he came across while going through old documents, started but never finished. It encapsulates the changes he faces while getting older.
“The aches and pains seem to be more pronounced now that I am 70,” he said. “While getting old can be tough, I have good memories and grandchildren who interact regularly with me and make me laugh. I hope the poem will resonate with those in my demographic who can relate to the aches and pains, but how they go away when we reflect on the good things in life.”
Villarreal began writing poetry as a child, but he credits Lansing Community College for making him the writer he is today.
“I’ve always written,” he said. “I just didn’t refine it until I took creative writing classes at LCC. Then I could actually give it structure and add something worth reading.”
Caesar’s “Stored Energy” was inspired by something many of us use every day: a laptop charger.
“I was struck each morning by the way the magnetized charger cable of my laptop leaped to assist me,” she said. “So many other objects, animals and circumstances seemed to follow this pattern: When you offer energy to the world, energy flows back to meet you.”
She rewrote the poem for this edition after publishing it three years ago.
“I wanted to change the ending,” she said. “The original poem concluded with an invitation to the other ‘treasure seekers’ to join me in a hunt for the cache of stored energy. Rereading the poem, I felt that this source is not far-off or hidden; that we can reach down and turn it on like the light switch at the base of the Christmas tree.”
“The poem reminds me that my light source is always there,” Caesar said. “I hope it will help others as it does me.”
Kraus-Friedberg is a first-timer in this year’s Poetry and Lights edition.
“I think it’s so cool, I feel like poetry’s kind of come into its own during the pandemic,” she said. “Lots of people who didn’t use to be interested are turning to it, and I think it’s great that the local paper is involved in the poetry community and supports poetry.”
Her poem, “Sowing in a Pandemic Time,” stems (no pun intended) from watching a neighbor grow tomato seedlings in her apartment window at the start of the COVID lockdown.
“I couldn’t eat, I was sick, I was so freaked out all the time,” she said. “But she was really pleased with her tomatoes, that they were doing so well, and I was thinking about how that takes a certain amount of faith, in a way, to be able to focus on something like that, even when you don’t know what the outcome will be.”
Beeman, who moved to Lansing just a year and a half ago, is “very excited” to publish poetry in City Pulse for the first time.
“I’m only 23, and I just graduated from college about two years ago, so every time I can show my mom my name in print and be like, ‘Look, mom, the degree was worth it,’ that’s always useful to me,” they said.
Beeman wrote the poem “mercy moon” about the now-distant relationship with their grandfather.
"It came out of reflecting on how this year has been different because I haven’t had this person in my life that I was used to having,” they said. “Something we did a lot was taking the telescope out on the porch and looking up at the stars. My grandfather’s the person who taught me that when the sun sets, you can see a few planets. It’s been so long that I can see them, and I’m like, ‘I’m pretty sure that one’s Venus,’ but I can’t reach out to this person that I would have and be like, ‘Hey, is that one still Venus?’ It uses those sort of images to talk about that estrangement and distance from people that you used to be close to, which I think is a common thing, post-COVID, for people.”
“I think the most general and most precise way of summarizing how I came to poetry begins with the world,” said Hunter Morgan. “Poetry, for me, is part of living. It’s part of being a human in this world. Poetry gives us a place — and a way — to engage with the complexity of being human, and I think when poetry is working well, it acknowledges this complexity.”
Hunter Morgan, who teaches creative writing at MSU, focused on punctuation (or, rather, lack of punctuation) for her poem, “The Eternal Return.”
“When I talk with my students about poetry, I emphasize that anything goes but not everything works, and that idea applies to how we choose to punctuate or not punctuate a poem,” she said. “I think the absence of punctuation in ‘The Eternal Return’ helps to reveal the mind thinking about something difficult. It affects the rhetoric and it opens the poem up a bit. Maybe that’s felt most deeply at the end: The absence of final punctuation keeps some impossible possibility alive for the speaker.”
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