Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Stars Still Shine at Detroit's Redford Theatre

The Redford Theatre
As a teenager, I saw a handful of movies at the Redford Theatre in Detroit--classics like The African Queen, On the Town, and Shane. Everything about the Redford felt historic, from the organ to the interior architecture to the way they showed Warner Brothers cartoons before the feature and always had an intermission when we could refill our pop and grab more snacks without missing any of the action. I remembered how, once the lights dimmed, the sky-blue ceiling shone with hundreds of tiny lights, giving the audience the feeling that it was watching a movie under the stars.

Until Saturday, it had been a couple of decades since I visited the theater, so my memory was a little fuzzy about the building's architecture. Regardless, I was excited to bring my wife and two girls to the theater. The Redford was showing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and my daughters were excited to see it for the first time in a movie theater.

A Japanese-themed painting in one of the staircases
The theater's yellow-trimmed marquee is not as imposing or ornate as those of other old movie houses in Michigan, which only makes the inside of the Redford Theatre more impressive. When the theater first opened in 1928, it had a larger marquee, but it was later replaced. Part of it was used for scrap metal during World War II, not the only change brought on by the war. The theater's original Japanese-themed interior was removed or painted over after Pearl Harbor, and much of it was still hidden when I last visited in the early 1990s.

Monday, February 27, 2017

An Afternoon of Poetry in Detroit

Three new collections of poetry by Michiganders
“Publishing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.” ―Don Marquis

On Saturday afternoon, I had the opportunity to attend a poetry reading in Detroit presented by Lynch and Sons Fund for the Arts and Wayne State University Press. The event featured three poets, Keith Taylor, Cindy Morgan Hunter, and Jim Daniels, reading from their newest collections of poetry. Each collection was published through Wayne State's Made in Michigan Writers Series, which publishes poetry, essays, creative nonfiction, and short fiction by Michigan writers.

Keith Taylor

Keith Taylor
Keith Taylor has published several poetry collections and teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan. He read from his newest collection of poetry, The Bird-While. Before reading his poems, he explained that he borrowed the title of his collection from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson described a "bird-while" as "the space most of the wild birds will allow you to make your observations on them when they alight near you in the woods." 

Each of the poems Taylor read is a brief, but thorough, view of both human nature and actual nature. He read about his daughter's narcolepsy, a hummingbird that stops its work to watch a jet fly overhead, young scientists talking about life as information, and the day the trees in his yard were uprooted by a storm. 

Cindy Hunter Morgan

Cindy Hunter Morgan
Cindy Hunter Morgan is a native Michigander who teaches creative writing at Michigan State University and has authored two award-winning chapbooks. Hunter Morgan read from Harborless, her collection of poems about Great Lakes shipwrecks. The Great Lakes are the resting grounds for more than 6,000 shipwrecks and 30,000 mariners, and Hunter Morgan gives a humanizing glimpse into what might have been the final moments of more than thirty of these wrecks.

Before reading each poem, Hunter Morgan gave a brief history of the shipwreck itself. One ship caught fire carrying a cargo of peaches, and Hunter Morgan captures the smells, sights, and sounds of a ship full of peaches going up in flames. Another ship carried Christmas trees from the Upper Peninsula to Chicago, where families waited at the docks to purchase trees that never arrived. Hunter Morgan used the pantoum poetic form for this Christmas tree ship poem, Rouse Simmons, 1912. A pantoum consists of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza. In this case, it gives the poem the wave-like effect intended by Hunter Morgan, as if the debris from the ship were bobbing up and down in the rolling waves.

Jim Daniels

Jim Daniels
Jim Daniels is a Detroit native and professor of creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Daniels explained that, despite living in Pittsburgh for more than thirty years, he always returns inland to Detroit. So he titled his latest collection of poems Rowing Inland. The poems he read gave glimpses of the Metro Detroit of Daniels's youth and his relationships with his family then and today.

When he read about driving the gridded streets of Detroit and ending up in Canada, Daniels's personal words felt personal to me, for I know these streets and drove them aimlessly as a teenager. His poem Hard Candy is about a family secret and the hard candy his grandmother kept in a metal dish. I remembered how both my grandmothers kept dishes of hard candy, and I wondered what sorrows and secrets they kept locked away.

The Venue

The former Kresge estate
The reading was hosted at the former Kresge estate in Detroit's Arden Park neighborhood. Paddy Lynch, of the Lynch and Sons Fund for the Arts family, purchased the house in 2011 and has brought it back to its original glory. Besides the Kresges, who founded K-Mart, the house's street once was populated with famous Detroit families like the Dodges and Fishers. 

Despite the grandeur of the home, the event was intimate. My wife, Allison, and I were able to speak to all three poets, and we found each of them to be friendly and unpretentious, normal people with extraordinary voices. The reading itself was in a basement room adorned with artwork along the walls. The poets and speakers stood in front of a mural that Paddy said reminds him of Ezra Pound's poem The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter. Paddy read Pound's poem at the end of the night in honor of his parents, who will be celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary this year.

Thomas Lynch, Paddy's uncle and a renowned writer in his own right, spoke before the readers. He depicted the struggle for poets to find audiences (and recited the Don Marquis quote above), and discussed the importance of poetry and the arts in our fractured society. His sense of humor shone as he joked that the poetry reading was a success because the attendees outnumbered the poets. 

The reading was a reminder of Michigan's natural beauty and the humanity of its residents. I look forward to seeing what other writers Lynch and Sons Fund for the Arts and the Made in Michigan Writers Series will uncover. 

At the end of the night, I walked out of the reading with a signed copy of each poetry collection, beautiful broadsides of the poets' works by three letterpress studios, and the echoes of rose petals.

The broadsides

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Silence Is Not an Option

This is not supposed to be a political blog.

This blog is supposed to be about the wonderful people of Michigan and our arts, culture, and food. I've written personal essays about my travels throughout the state and nostalgic posts about fond childhood memories. I often sit down at my computer with a smile on my face as I write about a writer I interviewed, film I saw, or a vacation I took. It brought me joy to share these stories with friends, family, and a few loyal readers.

But today, I sit here scowling with thousands of indignant thoughts clamoring in my mind yearning to breathe free. In his first week in office, our president has continued to play off irrational fears while ignoring or openly attacking facts. I wasn't surprised by this because the content of his character lacks basic rational thought and human empathy. I thought I could grin and bear it. I even laughed at his ridiculous wall.

But the tipping point was his executive order banning refugees from seven countries based on nothing but baseless fear of Muslim refugees. Not only did he impose this reckless ban, but he entered his order on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Putting into words my disgust with our president's executive order is difficult, but necessary.

Two months ago, I wrote about the United States as the "shining city upon a hill," and how I feared we might no longer be that shining city with the election of Donald Trump. Deep in my heart, I hoped that Trump wouldn't be that terrible and was naive enough to believe the Republicans who denounced Trump's bloviating about a Muslim ban would stand up to him when the time came. Then it only took one week for them to cave. One damn week. As I write this, only a small handful of GOP leaders have spoken against the ban. The rest either praise this un-American ban or sit in appalling silence.

Our country is consumed by irrational fear. And, yes, it is completely irrational. The Cato Institute, hardly a liberal organization, conducted a study that found that the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack by a refugee is a 1 in 3.64 billion per year. Not one of the 9/11 hijackers was from the countries on Trump's list. But we are supposed to cower under our covers worried about the Muslim Boogeyman because fearmongering politicians tell us to. A president once told us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Now, fear is our greatest weakness.

Lady Liberty's lamp is no longer lifted beside the golden door, but at her side, nearly extinguished by the storied, xenophobic pomp of Donald Trump. Thanks to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, there is one small, glowing ember left that one court decision cannot save. Instead, we must raise our voices and let the collective breath of a brave and free people act as a great bellows that ignites her torch anew. And we must rise up and roar every time Donald Trump tries to use his powers to incite fear and attempt to restrict liberty.

Silence is not an option.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Favorite New-to-Me Places to Eat and Drink in 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, it's time to reflect on the most important things in life, food and drink. Although I have plenty of favorite restaurants that I visit on a regular basis, I do like to try new places, especially when traveling around Michigan. Here are a few of my favorite restaurants and bars that I experienced for the first time in 2016.


Tenacity Brewing

Tenacity Brewing
I visited Tenacity Brewing in Flint one afternoon this fall. It had just opened for the night, so I was one of only a few customers. The brewery is in an old firehouse along the Flint River, and it has a great atmosphere with a few different rooms and outdoor seating to sit back and drink. I tried a flight of beers and was impressed. The Farmer's Daughter IPA was very good, and their Oktoberfest was smooth. The highlight was their dark wheat, and I purchased a growler of it to go.

An empty flight
Bell's Eccentric Cafe

Bell's Brewery is the godfather of Michigan craft brewing. Larry Bell and his team started brewing in Kalamazoo more than thirty years ago, and Michigan's craft brewing revolution was born. Even though most of their brewing occurs in nearby Comstock, Bell's still brews on the original site in Kalamazoo, and they serve beer and food next door at the Eccentric Cafe.

Bell's Eccentric Cafe
Despite being a Bell's fan for years, I had never been to either of their breweries. The Eccentric Cafe lived up to my expectations. I had an excellent burger as well as a couple of delicious beers. After finishing my meal, I stopped at the Bell's General Store, which sells t-shirts, homebrewing equipment, beer glasses, beer (of course), and more. I picked up one six pack of the Oracle Double IPA and a mixed six pack of Bell's beers.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Things to Do with Kids in Marquette

My family visited Marquette at the end of August, and my two young daughters (age eight and four) loved everything about it. With its many parks and its location on the shores of Lake Superior, Marquette is a great vacation destination for kids.

Shiras Park and Picnic Rocks Park

When we first arrived in Marquette, we immediately headed to the beach. Even though my daughters are used to the warmer waters of the inland lakes near Detroit, they bravely swam in Lake Superior's cool water at Shiras Park's beach. We practically had to drag them out of the water because they were having so much fun. After they swam, we let them play on the playground at Picnic Rocks Park, which overlooks Lake Superior and is directly next to Shiras Park.

Presque Isle Park

A view from Presque Isle
The highlight of our trip was Presque Isle Park. Presque Isle is a 323-acre city park on the north side of town with several foot trails through its forests. My daughters managed to walk the roughly 2 miles around the perimeter of Presque Isle. They loved the views of Lake Superior and frolicking in the water by the Black Rocks as my wife and I took turns jumping from the cliffs.

Marquette also has a lot of indoor activities for bad-weather days or days when parents don't feel like dragging young children around nature trails.