Multimedia journeys

handmade artbook

Since September 2018, I have been studying Creative Writing @ EMU. No stranger to EMU, having been a member of faculty in Music and Dance since 2011, I’ve always enjoyed the campus and community. However, studying with Creative Writing Professors in the program has been an incredible journey. One aspect that makes the Creative Writing Program at EMU special is hybridity.

Many higher education programs (MA’s, MFA’s) direct writers into a stream of study right from the point of application. As a multi-genre Movement Artist making the leap into Literary Arts, I had a deep desire to explore it all-

Poetry, fiction, flash-fiction, Creative Non-Fiction, and hybrid forms. This blog post documents my third project in MultiMedia, the art booklet. Today I’m sharing a photo gallery of DOCuDrama of a Dream, my second artbook project. I’m discovering a whole world of art books, collage, and multimedia composition.

As a person with health challenges and some level of disability, I’ve really had to take quarantine seriously during COVID-19. Even though I’ve struggled with social distance limitations, for example having to put my band BadjaMutha on complete hold, I’ve really never been more creatively productive.

Part of the impetus has been due to my extreme thirst for creative exploration, part of it is due to having a wonderful collaborative partner/teammate and delightful community of artists to interact with/ and learn from, and part of it is slowing down and attuning to my inner rhythms and the energy of the earth.

Winter, even in the disordered climate-change version of winter, offers opportunity for peering inward, and contemplating shifts, affinities and contrasts. I haven’t been posting a lot on my blog due to demands of life, job and school-work- I hope you enjoy this December post.

In today’s blog post, I offer glimpses of my new art booklet DOCuDrama of a Dream. I used many different compositional tools, techniques and technologies to construct this piece.

First, I concentrated on harvesting and recycling images and language from my dreams. I dedicated my focus to writing as soon as I wake, no matter what the hour, for a period of about 14 nights. Later, I processed the language into edited hand-written compositions. In these compositions, I hone the text into a bi-fold article: the meaning of the text is important, but the visual element of the writing has equal weight. Therefore, instead of typing the text and applying the usual (computer-based) options to the text, I tried to really focus on the act of writing as mark-making. I’m obsessed with line!

Textual Meaning and Materiality

Style of writing gains import here. I invented a kind of block-lettering that reminded me of early computers. And by early, I’m talking about the computer technologies of the late 70’s and early 80’s- ginormous computers that had a footprint of 20 square feet. My father, Dave Sears, an engineer at Allison’s at the time- took me to visit this computer at work. Allison, a branch of General Motors, was HQ’d in Indianapolis, Indiana, where I was born.

This computer used punch-cards and binary coding to function. It was a far cry from the nanochip tech we all have access to today. But this vintage tech was an aesthetic motivator for the hand-lettering you see below.

Additionally, I fleshed out my dream-material with character names (Lisa, Jill and Arthur Robinson, Barney, etc.) and gave Lisa, a leading lady, her own enscriptive style, a loopy cursive script. I even created a signature for her. Finally, I typed up the bulk of the content on a vintage typewriter I scored of Ebay. I was absurdly excited for the typewriter and it’s accessories, two ribbons, one black and one red to arrive. Quickly, working as a choreographer does, I established some aesthetic rules.

First- due to typing on unusual paper(s) I decided to accept all mistakes as fate, and work them into the flow of the text. One reason was that the corrective technology for this mid-1960’s Coronamatic typewriter is pretty primitive. The second reason was aesthetic: imperfection proves this item is made by human hands.

My own life is full of mistakes, shortfalls, and imperfections. Why should this booklet be any different? I decided to accept the mistakes of this booklet process, and integrate them, even when errors of spelling or fact occur. This led to another interesting sidebar- Tabloid type elements.

Some of the mistakes I made were mundane, but some were early steps in my research process. For example, one day, during a hike in the woods, my partner and I were discussing the Beatles’ song: “Give Me Money.” We both had a sneaking sense that this song, is, in fact a cover. I dreamed about it later, and dreamed it is a cover of a Bill Withers’ tune. That proved incorrect. I discovered a fascinating music research line. Berry Gordy’s administrative assistant at the time, Ms. Janie Bradford, is a co-writer of the song. She also was in the Motown Offices on the day the Beatles expressed interest in covering the song, and probably took the call where the deal was sealed.

Is she appropriately credited? Yes, today she is and does receive royalty compensation for her many songwriting credits. Check out this cool blog post for more about Janie Bradford, her accomplishments in music here. However, this is not the typical outcome for musicians, especially in blues and rock-n-roll music. Even in the case of the house bands for Motown’s various labels, many of the musicians suffered from poverty and instability in their careers and lives. Thus, creative exploitation, and a specific sidebar, exploitation of women, became a thematic sub-current in the booklet. This theme can’t be identified in the photos, and likely will only come to complete fruition a the next version of the project. (Spoiler: women’s reproductive capacity and monetization of biological reproductive capacities through the practice of surrogacy, sperm and ova donorship, etc. will be a theme in future drafts.)

The booklet components lay fallow for about six weeks this past fall, while I tried to decide upon a strategy to complete them. With the aid of art found in a little free library (LFL’s) on Oak Street in Ypsilanti, MI, I generated a cover. Memories of growing-up times with my father are layered underneath the medieval lady (greeting card art) on the back cover: a jingle from a radio advertisement for Smith Brothers’ Wild Cherry Cough Drops is penned in messy gray and royal blue marker.

Front Cover

On the front cover, I include a photo I took in 2009 on a visit to the Dominican Republic. The signage in English reads “No Passage, Private Property.” According to Frederick Engels’ 1884 Book, Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State the conceptualization of Private Property, ushered in a transition from matriarch to patriarchy. Family bloodlines and the establishment of trackable paternity made monogamy and privatization of land the new system in 18th century Europe. Industrialization in the mid-19th century allowed for the development of the middle class, and the widening divisions between workers, landowners, middle class managers of industry, etc. Finally, nuclear family practice and models of patriarchal tradition formed the perfect vehicle for the transfer of white privilege through heirs and inheritance. As society continued to evolve, a centralization of wealth and familial lines through the father created a cult of domesticity for certain classes/ races of women. The fence in the sepia-toned photography, and the off-center sign speak to all of these meanings.

I choose, with great zeal and joy, to stitch the whole booklet together on a fancy modern sewing machine. This choice of technique echoes centuries of female labor and points to women’s integrations and roles in testing technology. Also, women’s roles in fashion, textile production, manufacturing garments.

I hope you enjoy this post and my booklet.

Gaga class with Ya’ara

“Art is the spirit, we can’t live without it.
It has a bigger force than any pandemic.”

On Weds. June 24th I had the pleasure of taking a dance class (on-line through zoom) with Movement Artist Ya’ara Dolev.

Photo Credit: Ya’ara’s Personal Instagram

This class was organized by the Dance Program at Oakland University. Many thanks are due to Michigan Dance Council, Associate Professor Elizabeth Katner, Gregory Patterson, Dance Department Chair and Associate Professor, for organizing and disseminating such excellent and international content for dancers in Michigan.

A special thanks is due, of course, to Ya’ara herself, whose gorgeous dancing, and generous and ferocious spirit infuse the Gaga practice. Ya’ara is a stunning artist with a long and diverse international career. Ya’ara’s accomplishments have garnered quite a list of prizes and recognitions. For more about her, visit here. 

This writer, having been a professional dancer for over 20 years, has faced many injuries and chronic illnesses, including asthma, cancer and fibromyalgia, perhaps that is why I was drawn to class with Ya’ara today. There are many days now where I am unable to dance. But today, I was able to join in and participate in 80% of the class. Therefore, this blog post is created from first-hand lived experience.

The class experience is amazingly robust. Gaga is a style of dance and a movement discipline which is physically, mentally, emotionally and imaginatively challenging. Ya’ara dances with us, and her physicality belies her grace, efficiency, and strength, even through the distancing lens of video capture. Her verbal cuing is elegant, alternatively cerebral and somatic, imagistically vibrant and welcoming.

During a portion of the class, where I needed a short rest, I danced at my desk and composed a poem, entitled “Tama,” in honor of the feelings that movement practice generated in me. See the poem- in draft form- here. This poem includes reflection on “Tama” which is a movement pattern organized around repetition, mindfulness, spine movement which echoes cranial sacral rhythmic patterns, and the loose concept of energetic reciprocity.

In this poem, these feelings are connect with the materiality of the world through cotton. Cotton is a truly international material good with an expensive past, present and future. Cotton is resource-intensive to grow and develop into cloth, and sadly has been produced with unfair to horrendous working conditions for the past 300 years or so. The project of the poem is to explore patterns of multi-geographic fiber production, and it grows from my practicing of Tama with the class cohort on June 24th. Additionally, my interest in cotton production is intersectional, but takes its strongest philosophical grounding from embodied knowing and the imperative for fair trade and respectful human stewardship of earth’s resources. However, I want to specify that the poem grew out of the experience of dancing with this group.

After the movement portion of the class concluded, we had a chance for Q & A with Ya’ara. This portion of the meet-up was informative, as Ya’ara has recovered from several extensively debilitating injuries.

Dealing with injury

Yes, dancers, musical performers and athletes deal with injuries all the time. However, during a long career, which we all hope to have, the accumulation of natural aging of tissues, and trauma, which includes past injuries, can compound. Ya’ara provides an anatomical background and lived somatic framework for the “protection instinct,” most humans have around injury:

“The body wants to protect an injured place with a blockage and inflammation. When I bring movement to an injury, it opens up the blockage. When I am/ have been injured, I would put music that inspired me on my headset, and lie down on my back in the studio, and…close my eyes, imagining inside that I am moving and, also, moving inside water.”

Ya’ara brings appreciate inquiry to life as she asks, inwardly- self to instrument:

“How can you bring more and more softness and patience to your movement? Always believe that the tissues of the body, we can heal them. We can heal it.”

She continues: “I had the craziest injuries and doctors couldn’t even believe it. And they were saying, no way. But I had an international career after that…” (conquering the injuries, and moving on.)

Greg Patterson asks, how did you come to Berlin?

Ya’ara and her husband and family moved to Berlin for a fresh start. “Okay I thought, this could be beautiful….With four suitcases and two children, we landed and set out.”

“Literally from coming with my suitcase and nothing, they have made a life and career with many different (artistic) projects. Berlin is a great place for the arts, with lots of flexibility and great atmosphere in Berlin.”

As Europe opens up from COVID-19, Ya’ara pauses to reflect on life after the pandemic: “I see projects in Berlin, its like mushrooms after the rain.”

A student dancer asks, what was your worst injury ever?

Ya’ara briefly describes spinal injuries, involving likely vertebral fracture and a slow recovery process she undertook while working.

While injured, I had to create a solo, so I was just lying on my back, imagining I could sit. And heal very fast.

Of a traumatic Knee Injury, she remembers: “It was a complete loss.”

I was working on a commercial set, jumping these crazy slow motion jumps…(on a trampoline)” It turns out the equipment set-up was not adequate, and safety precautions were not a priority for the producers. Ya’ara’s trampoline was not balanced, and there weren’t adequate mats around the set-up… She fell back and smashed her neck and right knee. 

She describes the slow progression towards healing. 

Cross ligament completely torn, knee was cracked, meniscus was completely gone. A total loss for my right knee. I did an operation there, repairing the front cross ligament. I had a physical therapist who worked with Olympic athletes, and my father (her face lights up) was a healer, a reflexologist, and after working to make the knee strong, I would rest, take reflexology.

After working to make muscles on all sides of the knee strong, it would be red and inflamed. So I would rest. Apply ice compresses, heat compresses. And work again.”

This kind of stubborn persistence, combined with kinesthetic knowledge, spiritual patience and positivity, imaging the best outcome, even while in the devastating moment of loss, characterizes several of the world’s star athletes. Ya’ara is in good company with Tennis Star Serena Williams and NYCB prima ballerina Misty Copeland. All three have rebounded multiple times from potentially career-stopping injuries. Ya’ara exhibits a super-human growth mindset, and that is a habit of mind that anyone can aspire to cultivate.

For more information on Gaga, I recommend this excellent documentary, Mr. Gaga, released in 2017, and under the direction of Tomer Heymann. This film focuses on Gaga founder Ohad Naharid’s life and work. (Image credit: still from the film, which is available for viewing now.)

Still from Heymann’s film.

Flash Fiction Workshop

Join Christina-Marie and the Creative Writers Association for a Flash Fiction Workshop this coming Sunday March 8th, from 4-6 pm at Cultivate.

Write a short short story of 300, 500 or 1,000 words and bring it to the workshop for peer or small group review.

Look for our table at Cultivate, in the Main Cafe area. Excellent coffees, beverages and snacks are available for purchase, but purchase is not required to participate.

This workshop is free and open to serious creative writers. For those who are not currently students, a suggested donation of $7 to $15 applies. Funds raised will support the Creative Writers Association of Eastern Michigan University. We ask that writers commit the full 120 minutes to the workshop, so everyone has a chance to receive feedback on his/her/their projects.

Email to RSVP

How can this Community Wellness Space benefit you?

logo for Maple Street. In it, you see dancing, fitness, wellness and beauty.

This is a home-based creativity space with classes in music and dance, somatics, and yoga. This is a family-owned and operated wellness studio. Come as you are! Enjoy arts experiences, workshop, small classes, personal instruction, safe space for everyone. LGBTQ friendly. Payment is donation-based.

There is a staircase down to the studios, so Maple Street has limited ADA accessibility. For Full Accessibility options, Programming is available at Riverside Arts Center.

Our first ArtsShare was a lot of fun! This casual gathering is a wonderful way to meet other creatives and share your artistic practice.

Highlights include Bombay Jam with Miraya Fit. This is a woman-owned dance and fitness business. My friend and colleague Mukta Joshi reached out to me in 2018, as she had just moved to Michigan with her family. She is a classically trained Indian dancer who is also a personal trainer.

For more on this ancient dance form, visit the India Times.

As a demonstration of my design and production skills, enjoy the art I made for MPS’s First ArtsShare. Save-the-date for the next one, Sunday February 1st, 2020.

At Arts Share we enjoyed dance, food and fun, and poetry. Three poets read their work in this intimate and supportive setting. While you are enjoying the holidays and trying to beat cabin fever this winter, consider taking a workshop or class at Maple Street. If you are wondering what else is happening in the studio, Tap is hot and improves memory, balance, coordination. I have been a tap teacher and dancer for over twenty years. sooooo…



Learn tap dance with me!

Tap Dance is an American classic form, and it’s brain and body friendly. I have beenb a tap dancer since the age of three, and I love sharing the joy and fun of this rhythmic form. I consider tap dance an extension of my musicianship, and perform it with our cover band BadjaMutha.

Videos of our Fall Outreach

Restorative Justice and the Educator

This post explores the idea that Somatic Living and Restorative Justice are intertwined. For those of you new to this way of thinking about resolving relational harm, Restorative Justice began in the 1970’s as a broad concept about crime, injury to the victims of crime, and alternative ideas about repair and reform. It has been expanding in recent years as an important curricular development in education. This framing of Restorative Justice as a tool in education can be extended toward many areas, including community repair,relational support and individual healing. RJ presents what I think is a revolutionary framework for the care of self and others. This blogpost makes a first step into how RJ can be integrated into social and community settings.

As an educator, I consider myself a member of community in a leadership role, but firmly believe the educator (read: teacher, professor, tutor, artist-in-residence etc.) is not the expert, or even the only leader in education.

Rather, students learn from each other, in peer relationship, and are the living examples of growth and development for each other, and yes, even for the instructor. As such, I was the leader, for example in ballet, tap and compositional instruction, and my students were leaders in Hip Hop Dance, including Beat-Boy/Girl, Pop-n-Lock, Classic Footwork from Jit and House Dance, and so on. When we dance together, I can learn from student dancers, and they can learn from me. We are engaged in a Teaching and Learning relationship and I have carried this value of Relational Learning into every facet of my life.

I first encountered Restorative Justice when I was the Director of Dance at Everett High School in Lansing MI. As a caveat, I would like to preface this post with complete self-disclosure: this time in my life was intensely stressful, and I was at a vulnerable stage in my personal life.

However, being able to function quite well while under intense stress is one of my super-powers.

Teaching 6th-12th graders dance at Everett High School held enormous challenges and I did need to engage my super-powers to succeed! I learned so much from the position. It was during my Fifth Hour Class/Community that I first experienced a Restorative Justice Circle. My Fifth Hour class was unique. In it, I had several special needs students with significant unique needs, a cadre of talented hip-hop dancers with strong personalities, and a few who dancers who really wanted to branch out into Ballet, Modern and other dance forms. I organized the semesters into Units of Study, but Fifth hour, in particular, had a bumpy adjustment between different styles of dance and lesson plans. Perhaps this was due to the time of day, right after lunch- more on that later!- or in-group rivalries. However, I was able to accomplish a fair bit of creative dance and assist the students into tapping into movement to release excess anxiety and stress. This is one of the class communities that captured my heart. It is special to me that this group asked me to join a Restorative Justice circle.

Learn more about the program I developed and taught at Everett in this short film Why I Dance by Chandler Keyes. Chandler was my ballet student at Eastern Michigan University, Winter Semester 2017, and graciously served as a mentor and Guest Speaker after our college semester ended. Travelling with me up to Lansing’s former “magnet school for the performing arts,” Chandler spent a full day with the dance students at Everett. I chose Chandler as a mentor because she was an excellent student in the EMU Dance Program, and was an Early College Alliance student. She was about two years younger than the senior, so right in the middle of the age range at Everett.

In introducing Chandler to my talented dancers at Everett, I felt her excitement about a life in the arts would be contagious. As a Youtube Creator and well-rounded entrepreneur, Chandler’s achievements both on-screen and off filled the students with positivity and enthusiasm. They were impressed the Chandler had built a budding career in style and personal fashion through branded Youtube video content.

Chandler visited Everett as a Guest Artist left a lasting impression on the students, many of whom have now graduated. I am grateful to Chandler for investing in the youth of Lansing, and going above and beyond as a Peer mentor.

I use Logos, Rhetoric and Analysis in my day-to-day life, so I like to ground my writing with this recognition: Logos is a super power, too. After over 20 years as a teacher, I always like to examine facts and best practices.

So, let’s fact-check: what is Restorative Justice today?

Consider this excellent definition, which I excerpt from Author David Yusem:
“Restorative justice views “harm” as a fracturing of relationships, rather than something that demands punishment. A restorative justice process is a way to uncover true needs and heal relationships via meaningful accountability.”

How might restorative justice apply to a conflict? Restorative justice allows the impacted parties to talk about what happened, how they are feeling about it now, the impact it had on everyone, and ultimately what can be done to make it as right as possible. Restorative approach can help school communities avoid the need for exclusionary discipline and reduce repeated offenses. People who have been harmed often have questions that only the person that harmed them can answer. Often time these questions are simple like “why me?” or “what led you to do this to me?” The process allows for these and other questions to be answered and these answers can facilitate the healing process.

Restorative justice originates from an indigenous paradigm, instead of a patriarchal capitalist paradigm: it is community based, relational, and inclusive. The process creates equity by giving everyone a space to talk and be heard and by addressing the root cause of harm. We often say harmed people harm people, so it is important to uncover and address “original” harm too.

“The restorative talking circle process is often implemented to start this conversation.” (Yusem, David, published by Mindfulschools.org.)

At Everett High School and New Tech, Fifth hour was after lunch, and frequently, this class, in a nutshell, was pissed off and stressed. Remember, I promised we’d return to lunchtime. Lunchtime at physical synchronous school is extremely social, multifaceted and loud. At Everett, as well as many other high schools, this was a time when students leave campus, are marginally supervised, if at all, and are mingling with preferred peers. There are in-groups and out-groups and for many of my Fifth Hour students, lunch time was stressful. At least one of my Fifth Hour students used lunch time as an opportunity to settle a beef, by setting up a physical fight/challenge with another young lady. When this student asked for a bathroom pass, she was really using the pass as an excuse to meet and fight with a classmate. This and other concerns were impeding our progress as a Learning Community. Thus, we needed to able address concerns calmly through A Restorative Justice Talking Circle. While this Circle was my first, I had attempted to do this process several times in the past, with Everett classes and with other groups of folks. We were able, with the help of a RJ Staffer to itemize and examine grievances from Fifth Hour community members.

Student Concerns

  • Own Choreography? Students only wanted to work on their own ideas.
  • In fighting, peer to peer disfluencies, personality conflicts.
  • Schedules changed? Principal would frequently change students’ schedules. This would only aggravate the students and set back our class progress.
  • New students coming in all the time? Difficult to maintain status quo.
  • My style of hip-hop? I’m a white mid-westerner. Students were concerned about my ability to lead and direct their dances due to my race and ethnicity.
  • Personal Memories of this first RJ Talking Circle:
  • How I was nervous! As a conflict-avoidant person, I thought something scary or negative might happen. This was not the case!
  • I remember the sense of relief, a kind of group exhale: everyone stayed calm.
  • How students really only wanted to be heard.
  • How each student needed time and space to share.
  • Students needed to be heard by each other.
  • Once members got started, the whole process really flowed.
  • In this case, I was floored at how one circle pretty much cleared everything up, for example, at the end of the 45-minute Talking Circle, when asked if we should schedule another circle, students were pretty much: “Naw, we’re good.”
  • My permission and acceptance of their need to stop and dedicate a class period to just talking feelings, thoughts, and beliefs out respectfully meant so much to these young people.

Achievements

What we achieved, ultimately, in this class and in the program:

  • Four concerts of dance (between October 2016 and May 2017)
  • Over sixty pieces of Students’ own choreography (performed in the studio or on the stage.) Many are documented in the Why I Dance film. Filmed and edited by Chandler Keyes, pictured below.
  • Somatic/Emotional explorations of movement (particularly in Fifth Hour)
  • Artists created our own costumes (Fifth Hour) or selected their own from the Costume Closet.
  • Mentored and included special needs students, in full. The kindness and support these teens could offer each other often astounded me.
  • Created a safe space for everyone to grow artistically, intellectual, physically, socially and emotionally.
Peer Mentor, Filmmaker, Student and Youtube and Instagram Sensation and Influencer, Chandler Keyes.

Everett Dance Program Photos: Why I Dance

Personal Photos captured by CM Sears, 2016-2017. All Dancers signed waivers.

In summary, my experiences thus far in Restorative Justice have been positive, even though they can be a bit uncomfortable. These experiences have led me to believe and advocate for a greater expansion of RJ techniques into interpersonal disputes and relationships. It is a helpful tool for educators to remember that mindfulness and impeccable communication enrich the learning environment, the students and the educator’s experiences.

Works Cited:

  1. WeAreTeachers Staff on January 15, 2019 .contest-social .share-links svg. (2019, January 17). What Teachers Need to Know About Restorative Justice. Retrieved November 4, 2019, from https://www.weareteachers.com/restorative-justice/.
  2. Yusem, D. (2019, October 23). Restorative Justice in Schools: SEL in Action. Retrieved November 4, 2019, from https://www.mindfulschools.org/inspiration/restorative-justice-in-schools-sel-in-action/.
  3. Everett High School. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2019, from https://www.facebook.com/pages/Everett-High-School/108610615830071.

If you enjoyed this post, please like, subscribe and follow to support the arts!

  1. Follow Chandler Keyes here.
  2. Follow Christina-Marie Sears, former Director of Dance at Everett High School/ Lansing Public Schools/People Dancing Artistic Director here.

The Vital System

This collection of poems, published in 2012 by Tupelo Press, is the first I’ve read of CM Burroughs’ work. The slim text, her first collection of poems, is beautifully designed and the poems sing from the pages, and deftly slide from one to the next. CM Burroughs’ voice on the page is immediate and vivid, exploring internal spaces, corporeality, pain and suffering, and different modes of loving. Remembrance of Burrough’s sister is heartily sprinkled throughout the text, and while she is not named, the absent sister is in the core of the book, an invisible magnet.

Table of Contents, The Vital System: Poems


For example, consider the first Poem, Dear Incubator, which I had the pleasure of hearing Burrough’s read at Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan, on October 17, 2019 (excerpt from p. 3)

How can I ask you from inside the poem- what sense did I have so early…So unformed./ I was tangled in tubes (that keeps my heart pumping; that kept my lungs from collapsing; food/ to the body; oxygen to the brain).

You are everything and nothing.

A surrogate. A packing of half-made sensory detail; a past.

I have scars on my belly in shapes of fish…Where sensors tore thin skin.  What a tragedy to / be powerless. And yet, I controlled the choreography of everyone around me (the check of/ vitals; arms through the arm ports; my parent’ speech; also, there were surgeons.)

 This initial piece sets the book up with embodied theatricality, and indeed, the poems move through many spaces, in addition to the first space. Place occupies an important priority in the poems, as they move faster than the speed of light, from the first high stakes space, to the departed sister’s graveside, to a high tech television studio or film set, in Video Shoot, (p 47) a bed/ a bedroom, where sometimes the reader is invited in, but are compelled to stand behind the velvet ropes, as if touring a historic site. At other times, the reader is intimately close, invited to lean into private spaces, as in the provocative and powerful poem Clitoris. (p. 12)

However, the first space is polished, light, clean and scented with antiseptic. “The Theatre” as the OR or Operating Room used to be called, is a hospital space filled with anxiety, fever, illness, pain, heroism, recovery. We are mortal and this is high-stakes drama. The space clearly is constructed as a preemie unit, or possibly neonatal intensive care. Dear Incubator seems to be written from the point of view of the infant, this is a wildly creative choice that brings up all sorts of spiritual questions, and a web of musings about consciousness. 

Who is speaking? Can such tiny infants recall such things? Will this baby survive? The thought of a tiny person, conscious and feeling pain, hearing her parents speak, monitoring the comings and goings of hospital staff stirs up so much. Additionally, we discover that this infant “makes it” but the reader is left wondering, is this the absent sister? Is this a memory of the poet’s? Who is this partially-formed being, dependent upon medical technology, receiving touch, nutrition, life-support, and also aware of how she directs “the choreography.”

When Burroughs is behind the podium, a petite stylish woman who laughs as she turns on the microphone, she seems to occupy more than the physical space of her frame. She embodies her poems with melodic voice and a serious, yet slanted delivery. She forms the words of the poem with warmth and grace, yet there is a distance and deep range and precision. 

Her voice gains power as she read the poem Raving : I and the scale grows to mythic feminine; Diana the Huntress may well be circumnavigating a battlefield. 


“There was blood. Testicles lay in the streets
Like confetti post-parade. I was glad: Diana
after Actaeon’s own salivating pack consumed him-
Limb by limb licked, tendons trailing.”

To re-familiarize myself with the references in this stanza, a little research is necessary. I visit here and find an interesting article that restates the classical myth of Diana and Actaeon. Within the article, I found many 17th century Europeans paintings, used as illustrations to the myth, which I found topical.
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The way in which the above example foregrounds a particular problem- the portrayal of classical Greek myths- informs my interpretation of this poem. I have selected this example to illustrate the historically and culturally complex dynamic which is refuted/reframed/renavigated/reclaimed by Burroughs’ poems.

With a critical view of this Italian painting, I want to make plain an example of how Romantic European traditions in canvas painting totally white-washes the complex relationship between Grecian and Egyptian culture, both trading cultures, and denies the Africanist origination of Actaeon. However, I was intrigued by the artist’s portrayal of the fallen hero as earthy, strong and powerful, and the oddly contextual but ironic rack of antlers he wears as costume in the painting.

The ruins of Thebes lie today within/underneath Luxor, and Actaeon is a Theban hero. Immediately, the surface of the poem cracks open for me, and begins to reveal complexity within. While in the Italian painting, Acteon is of a darker complexion than the bathing maidens, his portrayal is far different the body of an actual Thebean hero. This site offers a thumb-nail sketch of how Actaeon might have dressed. Certainly he would have been clad either in Egyptian regalia, or in “commoner’s linen,” if he is intended to be disguised, which is not at all suggested by the painter. A very euro-canvas-traditional costume is depicted; painting tropes win over logic and accuracy.

Questions of race, ethnic heritage, female empowerment emerge. Also implied by this rhetorical research into the myth and its interplay within the poem, this reimagining of Diana’s power is a statement about identity.

Again, salient aspects of place and time, corporeality, and voice circulates between the poems.

In Raving: I (p.11) a seed is planted for the sowing of richer investigations. The connotations which arise from the author’s focus on this particular myth grounds the themes in the book. Identity, transformation, disease, medical intentions and mortality and transformation lie underneath and within the poems. Female power, violence and mourning sift beneath the leaves.

Burroughs, who is a black poet born in Atlanta, Georgia, and currently resides in Chicago, navigates contemporary political content, as well as intense personal material in her work. The relationship between the poems, and the subtle and organic structuring of the poem collective, effectively prioritizes lived experience with epic imagination.

Along the way, complex identities of Americans of color begin to thrum, and this is hinted at with the fierce repetition which ends the poem, Raving : I.

“I wore red paint, salvaging neither plated breast,
Nor firm mouth. Not once was I tender. 

I wanted them wasted- him, him, him, him him” 

In the mid-point of the text is a tightly woven three-part poem The Vital System which I presume to be important as it illuminates the title of the book. This poem is vivid and enigmatic, replete with erogenous language and complex hot images. The voice and perspective shifts in each section of this poem. Part I contains gendered images in its early lines, then shifts to an interrogation of collage as identity. (p 27)


I, in strutting cock stance,
anatomy blazing, phonic, self-
made mid-light….
I trans-
formed: across canvas stretched
white, a black bone bi-continental collage,
a put-upon pace.

Later in Part II, and Part III, Burroughs zooms into extreme close-up, richly describing a bucolic landscape of sex, agency, injury and action:
her bastion evidences fable: he plants his rollicking root. Blood lets, not enough to regret, repent. A body politic ravels. (p. 28)

and in the third section, zooms in still closer to the erogeny of the lived female body:

“Labial. Women grapple-hook women. Plum loaf, garnet welt, milk smear, complexion an arousal-lidded cunt. Mode: additive.” (p. 29)

In Part VI of the collection, Burroughs’ ability to create texts that works so well on many different registers is crystal clear. The first poem in this section, My helpless need to repeat, re-view, re-vise, (p. 55) is clever and self-possessed, also honest. Perhaps this quick switch of perspective makes this very brief poem such a wonderful start to a new section.

She primps in the powder room. She performs in public. She visits a therapist to leave/ her self with someone else. Repeat I, I, I.


I must tell you, and possibly you know, there is only this stage.”

Women, performing our public selves in private, women preparing the private self in public, trying to get “out of my head” through talk-therapy: how many women can see their lives in Burroughs’ lines?

The next poem Black Memorabilia, is a vast shift of perspective, and the reader is invited to a witnessing of the lived black body, the female body. In section I, Burrough’s shines her light onto and between a Black American experience, overcoming racism and oppression. I derive this meaning from Burrough’s pacing, and swift juxtapositions of body systems and phenomena: pain, teeth, nails, action, agency, body organs, (shoulder, tongue, skin) with more abstract ideas, such as anthems, interrogatives, loyalty. The line “When he fucks me, isn’t he uprising?” (p. 57) is preceded by an interior first section.

In this section, I can intimate by the word [Reclamation], set aside in brackets by the author, a rebellion/ a re-working/a re-visioning? I see a hologram of a certain woman of color, no a collage of multiple holographs, all of whom work in a domestic sphere, catalogued in the first line. Regarding voice, here is the coolest tonality in the set of four sections, however, there is a quick shift from outside to interior spaces: her/she to I/what I’ve done.

Here I excerpt the entire section I, from page 56.


[In this position in the poem: a maidservant.]
See: mammy/nanny/au pair, slipping into
tarnish like caviar spoons. This is a corner
for thinking about what I’ve done—placed
my hands over a series, a collection, of
rouged lips and their melanin-fringed rims.
[Reclamation.] i have faced the question:
What are you? In my dream, I am flanked by
such a number of windows that my limbs are
bound by light. Yellow girl. How do I say
no to that much canvas? As the poet of the
poem, I say No. I say Black. Behind me,
horizon fills with saliva.


In conclusion, this stunning book is one you will read and enjoy on so many levels. Intellectually stimulating, deeply felt, musical and vivid to all the senses, it also contains so much soul and yes, love. Eros, obviously is romantic love, fraught with all its failures and perils, yet phermonaly-speaking, unavoidable. Phillia, love of the mind drives the deep themes and investigations of the texts. Pragma, long-standing love, imbues the text with dedication: “for my sister”. And there is much focus on the sister, a dear one, and her pain, and the pain Burroughs survived in losing her too soon. A life all too brief, yet held in the shrine of remembrance.

The other forms of love humans create and experience, for example playful love, love for humanity and familial love are present as well, but painted so effectively in the poems; they become like live oaks in a landscape. There, but also part of the air we breathe.

In conclusion, Burrough’s outstanding collection of poems is a bit like a spiritual journey. There is wracking pain, take-your-breath-away pleasure and vivid, torqued and intrepid writing. These fascinating texts teem with ferocious resilience. I know I will return to these poems many times in the coming years, touching my tongue to the wine, my fingers to the velvety smooth places, and also the gritty scarred places, and warming my heart by their fire. A book like this one transcends time. Thank you CM Burroughs for the reading at the Zell Visiting Writers Series and for sharing you courageous and unforgettable book of poetry.

To purchase your copy of the text, visit here. To learn more about this poet, who is also Assistant Professor of Poetry at Columbia College, visit her academic profile here.

the Poet in a recent photo from the Cave Canem Blog, accessed 27.10. 19.

Sources Consulted

Burroughs, CM. The Vital System: Poems. Tupelo Press, 2012.

Cesarti, Giuseppe. https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/diana-and-actaeon-0011397.

Dhwty. “Diana and Actaeon: When an Innocent Encounter Turned Deadly.” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, 27 Jan. 2019, https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/diana-and-actaeon-0011397.

Naim, Rania, “The 7+ Types Of Love You’ll Probably Experience In This Life,” https://thoughtcatalog.com/rania-naim/2016/02/the-7-kinds-of-love-and-how-they-can-help-you-define-yours-according-to-the-ancient-greeks/. 25 October 25 2019.

Early Years

Circa 3/1987- 9/1989

A normal heart breaks when humans are dying.

When I moved with my family from Piedmont North Carolina, where tobacco still hung in the open air storehouses next to a sunny but spookily quiet downtown, to the Upstate Erie-canal town of Pittsford, NY, I was in a state of culture shock.

I felt like a first-time bungee jumper. Rochester’s suburbs of ethnic division house every kind of people, but in their own neighborhoods. Pittsford was built around lush green spaces and quiet streets with private large homes  that were solidly built. There were few if any African American kids in Pittsford Sutherland High School, very different from the diverse schools in the South. My middle and high-school friends in the South were largely comprised of African-American or mixed kids, or choir kids. I also had friends in the neighborhood. But when I moved up North, I was a skinny blonde kid who had a weird accent and walked strangely. Because I was a serious young artist, my walk really stood out. Plus I was a dreamer. I spent all day waiting for creative-time, down-time, dance-time.

I loved the theatre. A child performer, I was gearing up for a lifetime career as a triple-threat. I was lucky enough to have private voice lessons at the Eastman School of Music with a private teacher, Nancy Kennedy. There I sang in German, French and Italian. My accent wasn’t a problem. Controlling vibrato was another thing. I was in the State honors choir. I read plays for fun, and haunted the bookstores and cafes on Monroe Street. Of course I auditioned for drama clubs and show choir. I both loved and hated high school. 

I got high and missed rehearsal for school plays periodically. I sang in the hallways. My Jimmy-Dean inspired rebellion, during which I excelled and rebelled simultaneously, really mixed people up. Hell, it mixed me up. I was mixed up.  Young, broke, and just dumb enough to think I was an adult, because I was political.

disenchantment with American government had already hit me hard.  In the late 1980’s, coming off Reagan’s pointed policies of “Trickle Down Economics” I was finishing up high school in a complicated town just South of Lake Ontario, best known for Xerox, Bausch and Lomb and Eastman Kodak; the town was hopping due to these three industries, which are for the most part, are obsolete today. I completed an internship with Rep. Louise Slaughter, who had me answer constituent correspondence.


I was smoking half-a-pack of Marlboro Reds a day so I could feel my cowboy machismo. I was also doing breathing exercises and dance training. I was dancing at four different studios so I could learn jazz from Joe, tap from Val, ballet from the Russians, and Modern from Garth Fagan’s Bucket Dance Theatre.

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 Drivers’ Education was in a trailer/out-building AKA as a “portable.” We grasped plastic simulated steering wheels then took to the streets. We went to teen clubs like the “747,” to city parks, AP classes; the nurse’s office. (There was one then.) The resident nurse could administer ibuprofen, water, an ice pack for menstrual cramps.

We students formed in our own cell groups, not so unlike “The Breakfast Club.” Football and Lacrosse were more popular than soccer, which was on the rise among passionate athletes. Along the forgotten Erie Canal, Upstate, in the secluded historic yet cushy high school setting, AIDS was a whispered threat.

 I got a part in JCC’s Center Stage show and met Tom Gargana. I auditioned for that show because one of my dance teachers, Meg Kelley, choreographed it. (Meg was an enigmatic blonde with a classic chorus line frame who operated a modest studio. I had occasional private lessons with her because no one else would show up for jazz class. I was happy to bop and funk out with Meg to Aretha tunes, Chaka Kahn, and Bruce Springsteen’s Pink Cadillac. 

Ford Theatre’s Production of “110 in the Shade.”

 Meg Kelley and Ron, the JCC’s resident Theatre Director, exchanged droll flirts, “I need something to suck on besides Ron,” Meg would sign plaintively, I am so dry.” 

I was barely sixteen but I was home in the city; confident in the theatre. I never considered the language, the vibe, the scene, or the cast inappropriate. This was prior to helicopter parenting and “PC” movements. Think the feminist movement 1.5. We were real in a gritty way. I’d been to NYC. I knew my people.

The theatre and dressing room buzzed with veiled sexual tension and a welcoming camaraderie. With Tom’s hands in my hair, we fell into an innocent sweet enmeshment. “Ooooh you have such thick hair. You should let me fix it all the time for you.” 

Tom, tall dark and gauntly handsome, was a dramatically expressive. My mother and I adored Tom. He split off from the salon he’d been at, “for years” and went into business for himself. We made double appointments with Tom, just kind of hanging out in his salon while he did one head of hair, then another. Tom’s salon was super chic, he had a carousel horse –with a pole–yes on a pole!- in the corner. Like many artistic entrepreneurs in the downtown “Business district” Tom probably lived in his salon space when he wasn’t staying with his boyfriend.

Tom was marvelous, so our time together was just my cup of tea. In the dressing room, in the theatre, in the dance studio, in Tom’s salon, I was home. Then I would go home. Code-switching became like camouflage.

With regards to AIDS, my dad and brother were silent, my mother and I were worried about our gay friends, and asked small questions. So when AIDS was breaking in the news, we worried a bit about our friend and stylist Tom, but, of course, we were largely, unaffected.

I decided to accept University of Michigan’s offer of undergraduate study in Music and Literature, Science and the Arts. In those days, an undergrad applied to both. There was grant money for students in those days!

I was thrilled to be accepted as a Mezzo-Soprano. I transferred to the Department of Dance.

I sang show tunes from the 1940’s like Oklahoma, and was a huge geek over Stephen Sondheim. Bob Fosse moves spun out of my body, a spider on mesclun, spinnerets grinding, making gossamer patterns in the air. In a parking lot, I tried to come out as Bi to my mother and it was as if I hadn’t spoken.

 Alongside Shakespeare and Dance History readings, selected by the brilliant Professor Jessica Kimlat Fogel, we undergrads read Toni Morrison, Augusto Boal,and Larry Kramer.I had never heard of Larry Kramer or ACT-UP. But ACT-UP was forming because the AIDS crisis was decimating gay men.

Playwright, Screenwriter, Gay man, Civil Rights Organizer, hardscrabble Larry Kramer published, wrote The Normal Heart, and made waves in ACT UP. Even though I lived in the State of New York when I finished high school, it was miles away from the City, and it seemed, miles away from AIDS.

The HIV virus strain, known in small scientific communities since the 1940’s, but unknown to common citizens, was striking gay men, in metropolitan centers and both East and West coasts, hard, since 1981. 

Keith Haring, from the Art of Protest from Vietnam to AIDS.

Can you remember, or imagine, the shock, the terror? A horrendous disease that seemed to follow few patterns known in epidemiology. It seemed to mutate and morph. The range of symptoms was baffling. People were in the throes of panic, fear and rage, and HIV became an excuse for gay people to be targeted. Also, at first, there was a great deal of ignorance about the cause of AIDS, the HIV, and how it was transmitted, so it became a bigger excuse to beat and murder gay people. Kissing was implicated. Water fountains were suspect.

https://www.granfury.org/kissing-doesnt-kill

The police and government were completely inert, and the outbreak was entirely marginalized. In the film United in Anger: A History of ACT-UP, footage from infomercials showed couples of all stripes playfully kissing in an effort to counteract hateful misinformation.
It is shocking what the mind forgets.

Fast forward to Ann Arbor MI, where I read “The Normal Heart” and cried. Under the gray skies, I trudged from class to rehearsal to class, and felt completely isolated. My roommate, who was my bestie and incidentally, lesbian, had an extreme mental health crisis, and emotionally flatlined. Day after day, I would “come home” from class and she was still entombed in the covers, at 2:00 pm. My bright and beautiful roomie was completely paralyzed, and the land-line phone bolted to the wall of our South Quad dormitory room rang. “She hasn’t been out of bed in two weeks,” I whispered to her mother.

Her family flew in, scooped her up, and whisked her away. She disappeared from my life. Was it the stock market crash? Politics? Internalized homophobia? Fear for her health? Just depression? I never knew.

During Sarah Schulman’s September visit to campus, and the screening of United in Anger, I started to remember my life during the early years chronicled in the film. In the darkness, I wondered about all my theatre friends, my musical theatre friends, my dance partners, mainly gay men. Many of whom I had lost touch with, either through business, lifestyle changes, my own personal crises (there were many!) or multiple moves. Dancers, particularly, are known to be somewhat interant. We follow the muse, we follow the jobs, we follow the opportunities like hunters.

Early Years, NYC

During the screening this fall, I sat in the Auditorium and wondered about my friends, and how they fared, did they survive this epidemic? How could I just have let these brilliant special people go? My whiteness, my privilege and my ability to “pass” protected me. I know many more people in that screening suffered much greater losses.

Getty images. March on Washington as I remember it. 4.23.93.
Educational use only.
March on Washington DIe In at the White House
Washington, DC. 4-25-1993 ACT UP joins a million lesbians and gay men at the March on Washington. ACT UP/NY stages a demonstration with more than 1,000 activists from across the country at the headquarters of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer’s Association, accusing the pharmaceutical industry of adhering to profit-driven research, price gouging, corporate secrecy and inaction while allowing people with AIDS to die…
(Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

The beautiful end to this post is my friend Thomas J. Gargana, is alive and well. I have found him, and reached out to rekindle our friendship. His career and life have progressed, and according to Tom’s facebook, he is ‘in a long-term relationship with a wonderful man.”

And while my part in ACT-UP was modest, slim as a crescent moon, I met amazing people through the actions we put on together.

My small part in it all, is nothing like the dedication of the heroes who made this film, who lived this mission out in weekly meetings, actions and gatherings, who marched literally, for years. People who suffered devastating losses, and mourned, then ultimately survived them.

As a survivor of many tough breaks, including sexual assault, volatile relationships, and cancer, I know that sometimes it seems we survive in pieces. But in community, we can find solidarity. When we stand together: we stand for life, liberty, diversity, inclusion and justice.

Nothing could be more important.

Reviews and Postscripts

Drop me a line!

Five on Fiction: At a Glance

On a brilliant sunny autumn afternoon, I attended a special reading at the Student Center Auditorium. Five authors with current or past affiliations with the Creative Writing Program at Eastern Michigan University read selections from recent works of Fiction. Here’s the scoop:

Date of Event: September 14, 2019

Curated by: Professor Christine Hume

The event’s title is taken from emeritus faculty Janet Kauffman’s manifesto on fiction writing, Five on Fiction, (Burning Deck Press, 2004.)

Authors and Books, in the order of appearance:

Matt Kirkpatrick: The Ambrose J. and Vivian T. Seagrave Museum of 20th Century American Art (Acre Books, 2019.)

Polly Rosenwaike: Look How Happy I’m Making You (Doubleday, 2019)

Amanda Goldblatt: Hard Mouth (Counterpoint, 2019) 

Joe Sacksteder: Make/Shift (Sarabande Books, 2019)

Christina Milletti: Choke Box (University of Massachusetts Press, 2019.)

These extraordinary, funny and intriguing texts were brought to vivid performance by the authors.

The collection of masterful authors and their recent works, all published within this year, had a profound effect on me, a still-green MA Student. For more detail about my responses, read Brief Review (to be posted next.)

Until next time,

Warm Regards from Christina-Marie

What’s New? Introduction to Reflections on Artistic Practice and Social Justice

This post is one of several reflective articles exploring artistic practice, the contemporary Social Justice Movement, and my early start with its related elder cousin, activism. Please consider following, commenting and re-blogging items my blog series, Reflections on Artistic Practice and Social Justice.

Activism, according to my favorite dictionary Merriam-Webster, is defined as  “doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.” The relationship between activism, social justice, civics and artistic practice is intriguing to me. As I am a performance artist, educator and student, somatic practitioner and writer, this topic is key not only in artistic and professional processes, but also informs my life processes and lived experience.

The topic of this reflection is an introductory contextualization, and celebration of the work of Sarah Schulman. (This post will lead into my next blog “Early Years.” ) Motivated by my intense personal response to the September 26, 2019 screening of United in Anger, a film by Jim Hubbard, presented by Sarah Schulman and Jim Hubbard. On September 4th, I began a new job: Full-time Graduate Student at EMU.

My excitement is doubled because Creative Writing and Campus Life at Eastern Michigan University of Ypsilanti recently had the pleasure of hosting AIDS historian, screenwriter and award-winning author Sarah Schulman for a three-day visit. The action-packed visit began with a non-fiction reading of Conflict is Not Abuse and closed with a screening of United in Anger. More information about the film can be found here. According to the website, “The film is United in Anger: A History of ACT UP is an inspiring documentary about the birth and life of the AIDS activist movement from the perspective of the people in the trenches fighting the epidemic.”

I was a high school junior in UpState New York at the early stages of the AIDS epidemic, and later became a student activist at University of Michigan. Schulman’s entire visit this fall made a huge impact on me, as a writer, scholar, activist and human being. This visit led me to remember what my life was like during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and therefore I wrote this article, which interestingly highlights not Sarah Schulman, but Larry Kramer, an author whom we studied at U of M, and a key figure in ACT-UP, and my friend Tom Gargana, who was a Hair and Make-Up stylist for Center Stage‘s professional-caliber musical theatre program. Housed in a vibrant Jewish Community Center in Rochester, NY, the company is still thriving. Through my personal journey, I began to identify AIDS and the way in which we dealt with it as a country, and the federal and local government’s neglect of care, as a Human Rights Crisis. I got involved in ACT-UP actions, participating in die-in’s, local actions and marches on Washington DC. United in Anger should be valued content in any US History course.

Having a chance to be personally involved in Sarah Schulman’s visit, is a game-changer and brought my past to me in many meaningful waves. I had no idea what to expect from this award-winning author of over 20 books. A native New Yorker and astoundingly gifted fiction writer, Distinguished Professor of Humanities at City University of New York, Staten Island Campus, Schulman possess so much critical brilliance, multi-dimensionality, warmth, grace and personal power. As a Graduate Student in Creative Writing, and the GA Coordinator of the BathHouse Event Series, I was fortunate to be able to assist in details of Schulman’s visit, oversee sound checks, transportation arrangements and the like. I was floored by the film, and by Schulman herself. Without further ado, I am pleased to celebrate both Schulman’s Work and visit, and welcome you, dear reader, to Part Two of my reflection, motivated by two questions: Will I ever be able to meet the talented and tenacious Larry Kramer? and What happened to my friend Tom Gargana?

Memories of Paris, Process

As a Fiber Student in Advanced Fibers study with Professor Suzanne Boissy at EMU School of Art and Design, I’ve been having a blast learning new techniques and skills. I’ve been applying these new skills to my first Project in Fibers. I consider this an extension of my multi-media journeys, as this piece includes my original poem “Monk’s Hour at the Pompidou Museum.”

I wrote the poem six years after a visit to the famed Pompidou in Paris.

The piece is made of: An upcycled Degas Print “The Dancing Class” (1874), layers of lavender chiffon, screen prints, and more. First I had to learn how to make screen prints, which I did with some success. I love the magical process of screen printing. See the materials list below for a comprehensive list.

Materials

  • Linen fabric for screen print
  • white and lavender chiffon
  • yellow wool
  • gold embroidery floss and thread
  • Vintage photographs (mine are by Parisian Photographer Yvon Guy Greff, marked Greff studios from the 1940’s.)
  • Vintage frame and backboard

Screen Printing and Stitching
Process Photos

Interview with Matt Seigfried, Historian

This semester I have had the privilege of studying with Dr. Elisabeth Däumer from the Department of English Language and Literature. The course finished now, and despite the Quarantine and finishing the course in lockdown, Winter 2020 was a wonderful semester, in terms of our course: Literature in the Age of the Anthropocene. My eco-criticism final project for the Course is a paper entitled “Luna Lake: EcoCriticism, History and Land Use in Ypsilanti.” There is also a conjoined hypermedia notebook in the hopper. Meet me at the River is a multi-modal creative investigation of the Huron River and my study of it over time.

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I have the pleasure of speaking with Matt Seigfried who is a self-employed historian. According to his website, Matt is a historian, writer and researcher originally from Cincinnati, Ohio who has lived in Michigan since 1996. A graduate of Eastern Michigan University with degrees in History and Historic Preservation, much of his work has been on connecting local history to broad historical moments.

Matt’s Master’s Thesis Project resulted in the publication of an impactful website. This site centers around the cultural and sociological histories of African-American Families in Ypsilanti around 1900. Matt and I spoke about the gaps in what history has been preserved in terms of land use, ethics, and social and cultural norms and practices of African-American families. Matt stated:

“If the information wasn’t collected 150 years ago, it’s not (going to be) available now…When we look at history, there is an absolute necessity to use an informed imagination.”

When I explained a bit about my project, and that several of the components in my hyper-media e-book, Meet Me at the River, are inspired by a somatic sensing of place, I wanted to get a professional impression of my research process.

As a Somatics practitioner, I have found that this work infuses everything. A somatic sensing of place allows one to collect distinct impressions of place through one’s sensory apparatus, energetic attunement, and intuitive creative visioning. I call this process of somatic attunement “Deep Time Listening.”

Due to there being significant missing pieces in Ypsilanti’s social and cultural history, there was a lot of sadness and sense of loss in this study. One particularly disturbing gap is the lack of record regarding First Peoples and this area.

The Prospect Park which marks the epicenter of this lived history project is particularly complex. What I was able to establish from historical record is that Luna Lake and Prospect Park were widely used as hunting lands by at least three tribes (bands) simultaneously. The area was plentiful with game and water, having been documented as “Swamp land,” on a platt map.

However, this area, bordered to the East by International Water Way and the Port of Detroit, to the immediate North East by the powerful Huron River, and the South by Ohio settlers and bands of people migrations from East to West, was lively and multi-cultural from the get-go. European influence came from the British and French wars, military history, fur traders and trappers from French-Canada and so on. Consider all the impact of this past, and then add “Great Migrations” of African Americans. Families travelled northward following the Emancipation Proclamation, and continued to seek better employment opportunities in through mid Twentieth century. The progressive manufacturing activities of Edsel Ford are intricately tied to Ypsilanti history. Ford used the river extensively, and hydrology and automotive history play a big part in the industrial development of the area. Additionally, Ford designated housing for factory workers, and the connections between Detroit families and Ypsilanti are hinted at in my poem, “Boys in Dress Uniform.” (DM if you’d like to read a draft.)

Of particular note, burying grounds have an important function in cultural life for all people, and land cultivation as well. In the past, Prospect Park was a burying ground for cholera victims, though these remains were exhumed (presumably respectfully?- one hopes) in 1892 as a activist efforts by local women were undertaken to “improve” the area.

Facing these complexities, during one 15-week semester, which was disrupted by COVID, was a daunting task. I imagine the possibilities of undocumented land use, in January 2020 I began a poetry series inspired by the place where I live. Most of these poems are set in the time period between 1890s-1930’s, and I have wondered how valid Deep Time Listening, combined with sociological and biological factual points of reference and poetic prompts are as literary inquiry.

How important is imagination, interrogations of place, and an examination of built structure in terms of interpreting history? Was I totally off-the-wall in my practice, which like most other points of inquiry, is multi-modal?

How does investigative traditional research, books, scouring newspaper accounts and making detailed examination of photographs, drawing, cartoons, etc. interface with the lived body? I’ve long been fascinated by oral history, especially given its mainstay as a feminist mode of inquiry.

How do conversations, news accounts, and found items play out with the experience of living in a historic neighborhood?

I floated a few questions about the research process I used during LIT 592 to Matt, during our interview. One gem from his response below:

“I do nothing but walk around and imagine what things could have been like. You have an informed understanding of the past, but you must use your imagination. All history requires imagination, in one sense or another.”

This position was reassuring to me. As a white LGBTQ+ woman, living with hidden disabilities, ethics and anti-racism are an on-going concern in my research and life. I’d been juggling historic papers, from City and Michigan State University sources, contemporary pro-Black farming studies (notably Ms. Dorceta Taylor’s comprehensive reportage on African-American farmers in Michigan and nationwide, published in March 2018) with observational study, perusing platt maps, vintage photographs, and the like.

Balancing historical traditional research, primary research and the emergent “Deep Time Listening” made for a heady stew. In order to compose my paper and create aspects of my conjoined hyper-media project, “Meet Me at the River”  I required a professional historian’s point of view. It is and was imperative to me, that the research be as immaculate as possible.

Matt conducts walking tours and considers the built and natural environment an invaluable resource. Matt shares:

“One of the reasons I do walking tours is because history is what we walk around in everyday. History is in our built environment… history navigates the… relationship of the built environment and our natural world. Roads are racially-coded, and the built environment is a really important place to understand history and how social differences are built and encoded into place.”

Visit Matt’s impressive website, which documents African-American families, neighborhoods and life-styles here. The feature image, at top, is a photo from the website, and marks an intersection of major historical import in South Ypsilanti. Similarly, the second image, a candid of Matt, shows him standing in front of a former theatre, on Michigan Ave. where Frederick Douglass spoke twice.

To contact Matt and book a place on one of his tours, or inquire about other programming, send him a note through his website. I personally hope to go on a walking tour with Matt soon, and will be sure to share a bit about it this summer.

My Teaching Practice

Last August, I began teaching CRTW 120, Composition I: Writing the College Experience. As it is, whenever one begins a new adventure, I had a lot of new content to embrace. A new text, a fantastic cohort of teachers in the First Year Writing Program, a new Pedagogy professor, and finally, a full group of lively and talented students at Eastern Michigan University.

We’ve had a wonderful semester together, and in 2020 I will be moving on to Instruct WRTG 121, Researching the Public Experience. I couldn’t be more excited to meet and face new challenges that allow me to refine my pedagogy, learn from my fellow Graduate Student Assistants, interact with expert FYW Director and co-directors, and engage with a dynamic community of freshman students.

As I go forward, I am thrilled to be able to look back on all we’ve done in WRTG 120. Research will be my polar plunge for 2020!

Ypsi Writes Workshops

This semester, part of my Outreach has been with Ypsi Writes. This series of workshops has shared leadership, and we have so far met for two hour-long workshops. Both have been on the smaller side, but overall have been very successful. The lesson plans for our workshop time have been created by Joe Bishop.

On the first workshop, we met our young adults, who identify as having a disability, and the content concerns word choice, synonyms and antonyms. Among the three young writers who were present, Grey presented with the most content. Grey is already hard at work on a short story. The text has a great deal of detail, interesting characters and plot-twists.

Gray set a goal of completing her story within the 2019-2020 series of workshops. Other folks were also setting goals, particularly “Lawrence” who works part-time as an auto-detailer while he completes his education. “Lawrence” is writing more and really ramping up his imagination. I noticed this in last Saturday’s workshop.

Because I was seated near “Lawrence” I got the opportunity to work closely with him on lesson #2, Maps. In this lesson, participants drew a map of an imaginary place. Our small team of three decided to draw a village set into the side of a mountain, and from there, details, economies, imaginary creatures and topographic information sprang forth. Our inventions included: Fields of Frolic (a recreation arena), Mines of Requirement, Shepherd’s Heath, Lama Crossing, Mermaid’s Lagoon, a swift flowing wide river well suited for trade and commerce, etc.

We had a lot of fun with making our map, and “Lawrence” and another volunteer created a short paragraph describing it. A goal is just to inspire “Lawrence” to write more and grow in confidence.

Everyone is having a great time at workshops, and the volunteer team have a good rapport. There is a budding sense of community developing, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Grey’s Map and a bit of their story.