Friday, December 28, 2007

Observation #2: Writing Programs

The Beaner's event included some fairly good readers, notably featured poets Vievee Francis and Matt Olzmann, as well as a humorous character who read from his site, and an attractively quirky blonde woman named Laura. Olzmann in particular had a good voice and strong material.

Yet, this kind of reading is light years behind what we were doing in Philly. (Especially the ULA's two "Underground" shows early in 2007.) At Beaner's I put some dramatics and voice behind two short pieces and unsettled the audience.

Writing programs help poets like Francis and Olzmann gain connections and publication, but they also put their talents into a box, so that everything they write and read is predictable and orderly-- even when it tries not to be. Academy-inspired readings have built-in limitations, lacking creativity and innovation, BECAUSE of the way the poets have been trained. I sit at such readings, even the better ones, and SEE the boundaries around the performers, around the entire presentation. Such boundaries are what the Underground Literary Alliance destroyed.

Art-- real art-- is about shattering limitations. If any city should be belching forth crazed artists and performers crazy with the joyful mania of art it's Detroit.

(Next: Observation #3.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Poetry Reading

Thursday, December 13, I attended a poetry reading at Beaner's Coffee on Woodward Avenue, just south of 13 Mile Road. Three related observations:

Sprawl is the death of the Detroit area unless quickly corrected. There isn't the population or money to support such a widespread metro area. (It's generated through reasons of class and race, which means there's not necessarily any logic to it.)

Metro Detroit is a thin veneer of life spread over a vast area. Businesses on corridors like Woodward are barely surviving. I walked from 9 Mile to the coffee shop, and was able to gauge the amount of customers present during what is supposed to be the busiest shopping season. In a deeper economic downturn, all that will remain is scattered clusters-- islands of activity such as downtown shopping districts or malls. The rest will be a sea of darkness.

With gas prices climbing; with the need for energy independence as well as less pollution, why has the definition of Metro Detroit been expanding? Even "alternative" papers now consider Ann Arbor part of Detroit. This is insanity-- economic and environmental insanity. One can see boozhie liberals shooting all across the area to attend this event or that one; while lunching in Royal Oak no doubt complaining about global warming..

And why Royal Oak? How has that morphed into the trendy area? It's too far from downtown for there to be real economic and social synergy between the two locations.

Philadelphia has trendy parts of town like Manyunk which are IN the city; indeed, within sight of the core shopping and cultural district. From Manyunk one can see downtown Philly's looming skyscrapers. There are reasons Philadelphia remains a successful city.

Next: Observation #2: Writing Programs.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Plight of a Hot Dog Vendor

THE DAY AFTER Thanksgiving a hot dog stand appeared on the streets of downtown Detroit, the first I'd seen since my return. It was situated on Woodward across from Campus Martius Park at the heart of the city; a perfect location, one would figure. Alone, as if on an island, there it sat; downtown's scantly-occupied towers as backdrop.

It was an enclosed kind of stand; a white box with a trailer hitch on front, and a small window which slid open. In truth I thought it was closed, abandoned from the day before. In the time I hung out in the area no one approached it. The person inside made not one sale. I glanced at the price list. Hot dogs were two dollars, more than I wanted to pay.

I noticed the stand again several days later, in exactly the same spot, as if it'd never left. This time there was a mark of occupancy. A hand lettered sign taped below the window announced, "HOT DOGS ONE DOLLAR." On sale.

I bought a couple. The window slid open, allowing in the cold. A heavily-dressed heavy-set woman who spoke with a Slavic accent worked furiously. A customer! Can't let this one go.

As I waited, a short black woman who'd been walking down the street glanced at me and the stand and decided to buy something also. A line. A rush! Things were looking up.

The next time I passed things were back to normal. No line. No customers at all.

An image flashed in my head of the hot dog vendors in downtown Philadelphia-- where I recently lived-- whose hands were filled with cash and who worked fast to keep up with the never-ceasing flow of business. Hot dogs! Cheesesteaks! Kielbasa! Meatball sandwich! Pretzels! With mustard! Soda!

In Detroit there was one hot dog stand and no one ever went up to it.

The next day, a larger sign; a plea; a cry for help: "OPEN."

Maybe with ice skating now at Campus Martius people will stop to buy hot dogs and keep the city's only outside hot dog stand afloat. One can hope.