Detroit's Poet Society

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.”

‘Slamming city’

Poets in the 313 are coming together, and wants people to know about it.

“With, 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 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 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 she can.

“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 message 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 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 appreciate both.”

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 poets.

“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, "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 complain about.

 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 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

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