Regional poetry anthologies, like the beautifully produced new collection just issued by Western Michigan University’s New Issues Press and edited by essential Michigan poets William Olsen and Jack Ridl, are meant for a limited audience. And, like this one, they are often intended to raise some money. (In this case, the hope is they’ll help New Issues continue its good work publishing contemporary poetry.) But don’t be put off. Any reader who’s even occasionally curious about how poets and painters respond to the places we share will not be disappointed.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that the Observer has some connection to this collection: I have a poem in it, and Steve Gilzow, who has painted seventeen covers and written about as many articles for the magazine over the years, has a beautiful watercolor included. Other Ann Arborites–poets like Laura Kasischke, Linda Gregerson, Josie Kearns, and Alison Swan; artists like Steve Coron, Karen Wagner Coron, and Patrick Young–are well represented. There is a haunting photograph by Martha Ceccio of the Huron River looking mysterious, even mystical, on the cover.
In his introduction, Jim Daniels quotes novelist Richard Price, who “once said that where you’re from is ‘… the zip code for your heart.'” That seems right to me. So what larger understanding does this book offer of our place? Daniels goes on: “… what strikes me about so many of these poems is their humility–humility in the face of extreme weather, hard winters; humility in the face of economic hardship; humility in the face of the challenges of daily life–challenges stemming from unpredictability of both the human and natural worlds.” Maybe this Midwestern quality is accented even more in a place that has seen so many recent crises. Yes, we can be proud of our humility.
There are lots of deer, living and dead, in these poems. There are also, of course, lakes and rivers and a fair amount of fishing. There’s snow. There are forests and sunsets because they, too, are part of what we experience and love about this place. But these editors have made sure there is not just one tone, not just one vision of the state. The cities are here, too, filled with all their problems and hopes. In “Down in Detroit,” Terry Blackhawk responds to a suburban librarian who says with shock, “You live down in Detroit?”:
Tough enough to love
this town without the shocked looks, dropped
jaws of fellow citizens who assume whiteness
unites as they eye you, reassessing instantly.
The book would not be honest if the poems celebrated only the beauty around us. They must also recognize the battles we continue to fight.
Several of us, including Gregerson, Kasischke, Kearns, Thomas Lynch, and Swan, will read from Poetry in Michigan/Michigan in Poetry on December 4 at Literati Bookstore.