Just like the city itself, Detroit’s dynamic poetry scene is undergoing an urban renaissance.
Historically, in such a performance-oriented town as Detroit, there
have been slight divisions between the city’s gifted page poets (i.e.
published literary poets) and stage poets (i.e. “slam” poets who
perform). Such divisions might have gone unnoticed, but many of the city's more prominent page writers, such as Crystal Williams
, Toi Derricotte
and Anthony Butts
, who won the prestigious William Carlos
Williams award for poetry in 2004, have left the city. There seems to have be a consensus that Detroit's not the proper
market for literary poets.
These days, however, those in support of a more balanced poetry scene
have wised up and are creating more space for both spoken word and page poets to thrive.
“It sounds crazy to have one community separated in a page poets versus
stage poets type of fashion, but that’s the way it was in Detroit for a
long time,” says prominent spoken word artist Kahn Davison.
“For a while, both crowds didn’t feel comfortable in the same room.
Nowadays, there are more poets like Blair, Will Copeland, Jamaal
‘Versiz’ May and Aurora Harris, who pretty much started it all, that
are making a name for themselves in both scenes and realize how
important that is.”
Poets in the 313 are coming together, and Detroitpoetry.com
wants people to know about it.
“With Detroitpoetry.com, we don’t only give due respect to poets on
stage, but those on the page as well,” says Christina Archer, the site's co-founder. “People want to
know that this is more than just slamming city—and that there is
support for contemporary page poetics in Detroit as well.”
The Web site started in 2005 to help organize and shed light on
Detroit's enormous artistic community and since has become
virtually a one-stop shop for all things poetry-related. With
everything from in-depth articles on hip-hop to a comprehensive list of
open-mic nights and poetry readings around town, the site is filling a
tremendous void in the artistic community by helping to spotlight
everyone's poetic endeavors and bridging the gap between artists,
advertisement and the laziness of the 21st century mentality.
“I think in 2006, people don’t really want to read a bunch of fliers
and try to remember what’s going on all across the city,” says
Detroitpoetry.com copy editor Nandi Comer. “People just want to go
online and find out everything they need to know about Detroit’s poetry
scene at the click of a button. That’s the world we live, and that’s the
gap Detroitpoetry.com is able to fill on our Web site every day.”
Longtime behind the scenes queen Archer
says the Web site gets well over 10,000 hits per month, with about 500
visitors logging on to the site every day. Archer says she’s
glad to play a part in the poetry scene’s renaissance any way
“If you want to have a metropolis, you need to have a thriving arts and
culture community, and poetry is a big part of that when it comes to
Detroit,” says Archer. “I think with the Web site, we’ve started
something where people are trying to keep that energy going."
She says the site is even attracting international attention to Motor
City poets. “Poets are dialoguing with other poets every day on the
boards. We get hits from Spain, Canada, or just people coming to town
for the weekend looking for something culturally stimulating to do.
It’s a hub, and even though it’s something that started out really
small, we’d love to become the Myspace for poets.”
Trying to achieve the success of Myspace.com is certainly a lofty goal, but the
altruistic intentions are certainly in place. Most of the writers
involved with the Web site are poets, and they readily admit
this isn’t about achieving fame or fortune, but rather a greater
recognition of talented artists throughout Detroit.
Read, slam and jam
Currently, the three major venues to hear Detroit’s poetry community at
its most vibrant: Beans and Bytes’ “ByteThis” spoken-word series on
Tuesdays, Magnolia’s Key Club “ Poetry for Your Soul” on Thursdays, and
the Meetery Eatery
’s “Pic Nap Poetry Series” on Fridays.
Of the three main open-mic nights, the “Pic Nap Poetry Series” is the
longest running. Hosted by Kalimah “Loc-Mama” Johnson and Johnny
“Jy-Obadele” Jenkins, the vibe inside the Meetery Eatery is one of
family. People often greet each other with hugs, new poets are
welcomed, and egos are checked at the door, which is important when it
comes to the spoken-word community.
“You know, there’s a lot of ego involved in poetry, especially in
Detroit,” Davison admits. “Spoken word cats always think they know it
all, and sometimes you need to put page poets on the same bill as
traditional slam poets so that the audiences in this city can learn to
At the same time, Davison also credits the “ByteThis” weekly poetry
series as one of the key venues to highlight both page and spoken word
“Beans and Bytes is the main place in the city right now that is
putting slammers and accomplished literary poets together and making it
work — which isn’t easy, but they’ve figured it out,” Davison says.
Hosted by Comer and co-sponsored by Detroitpoetry.com,
"ByteThis" is known for its ability to not only reach out to the up
and coming bards of Detroit, but also for attracting poets on national
tours. The result is a scene where some poets read, some slam and
others play guitar and various instruments during their sets. The
atmosphere inside of Beans and Bytes is always friendly, and as long as
patrons don’t try to avoid paying the $5 cover charge, nobody makes a
fuss. DJ Eton is on point with his eclectic selection of music, often
flipping from Manu Chao to Public Enemy in between sets. Aside from
the noisy cappuccino machines in the background, there isn’t much to
The other open mic night, “Poetry For Your Soul” at Magnolia’s Key
Club, has been running off and on for the last four years. Resurrected
a year ago and hosted by Sparrow, the venue attracts upwards of 20 to
30 poets each week.
Because of the downtown/East Riverfront location, there’s always
an interesting mix of patrons, with poets, artsy types and typical
clubgoers all in one venue. At times, there are aesthetic limitations
listening to deep introspective poetry inside of a club, but Sparrow
has been pulling it together and the venue continues to grow.
No matter where you roam for good poetry in Detroit, logging on to
Detroitpoetry.com will undoubtedly stir all in the right direction,
whether they are slam-fans or literary types.
Where to get your bard on:
• “Poetry for Your Soul,” Thursdays, Magnolia’s
Key Club, 1440 E. Franklin in the East Riverfront area, 313.393.0018
• “Pic Nap Poetry Series,” Fridays, Meetery Eatery
, 5408 Woodward Ave. in the Park Shelton, 313.758.0136
• “ByteThis,” Tuesdays, Beans and Bytes, 4200 Woodward Ave. at Willis, 313.833.9870
Poetry for Your Soul at Magnolia's Key Club
All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger