PREVIEW: Ragamala Dance Company

The Ragamala Dance Company is a group that performs the South Indian classical dance bharatanatyam. This performance will be based around the game Paramapadam (from which Snakes and Ladders originated) as well as the 12th-century Persian epic The Conference of the Birds. The board game will be represented by paintings projected on the floor, done by Chennai-based visual artist Keshav. “The live music for Written in Water is composed and performed by Amir ElSaffar, interwoven with original South Indian Carnatic compositions by Prema Ramamurthy” (UMS).

I have never been to a bharatanatyam performance with live music before, and ElSaffar’s music is a really beautiful blend of different styles. Furthermore, the fact that they are blending visual arts, music, and dance is so exciting. I can’t wait to see how they blend those types of art into the Hindu and Sufi traditions that form the context of the performance. The performance is Friday, October 20, at 8pm in the Power Center. Tickets are available at

(Photo credit: Bruce Palmer/UMS)

REVIEW: L’etat de Siege (State of Siege)

I want to say I was mindblown. But I left the theater mostly confused and somewhat annoyed.  Some comments:

I liked the metaphors: “Black horses of love.” “Summer is here.”” Winter is coming. (wink wink) ” My brain wore new clothes each time a supertitle spat out a line of beautiful poetic imagery. Each of these metaphors added new dimension to my understanding of different concepts. I can taste the salt of the sea when I hold “freedom” in my mouth, for example. Whenever I hear “repression” in my polsci class, I’m reminded of the claustrophobia created by Plague’s rule over the people. “Love”, to me, clings like the primeval, earthy smell of manure.

I liked the setup: The black garbage bag-like material that was spread across the stage created an eery sense of suspense: its supposed to CONCEAL something in or under the floor. And yes, Death and Plague showed up from underneath. The weirdly detached voice recording of a man in the beginning of the performance was a pleasant “addition” to the performance. He didn’t seem to show up after the first few seconds but it was entertaining for a while. The videos shown above the stage complemented the themes of the play. When the governor was speaking and the screens showed his silently screaming face, it gave a Big Brother-esque vibe to the play.

This is “Death” talking.

But I just didn’t enjoy the performance:

 (a) Maybe it’s just the times. I wasn’t able to enjoy it because it was not relevant to me. I don’t “see” the problems that the performance seemed to be harping about. But maybe that’s just because the play was written during World War 2 when totalitarian and fascist governments really did make cities feel more like coffins.

(b) Maybe it was just too “romantic” for me. I don’t know. One of the messages I got from the play was that one must be able to forget the fear of death to initiate regime change. Hm. It seems to particularly glorify this romantic martyr mentality instead of, I would say, the more important pragmatic coordination needed to create a successful revolution (it’s almost polsci midterms, so I’m reviewing my notes simultaneously). I know the play is not a handbook, but I’m also questioning its appropriateness in our time, when populists who appeal to emotion are starting to take the reins and terrorists are able to convince people to die for their cause by painting visions of heaven.

Diego can run away with Victoria, giving the city to Plague. Or he can die for Victoria to live.

(c) I didn’t understand the “jokes”. It made me salty.



While EnspiRED is a fashion organization, they described the showcase last night as their annual multimedia event.  The purpose was to highlight the work of all artists around campus, making last night “more than just fashion.”

There were two paintings and a photo print making up the display part of the event, while the majority of the night consisted of live performances.  There were no labels on the visual art but I got a photo of the canvases near the door.

Chase Garrett, a poet, was the first live performer.  It was a political narrative preaching optimism even though the state of America is less than favorable at the moment.  It seemed to resonate with the audience, who was very responsive throughout the evening.

Next was a singer/guitarist, Jake Lemond.  While he reminded me a little of The Lumineers’ main singer, he was unique with his stage presence and skill with the guitar.  He played three songs, most of them alternating between a Travis pick-style verse and a strummed chorus.  There was a lot of strum pattern and vocal variation which made each song different.  He even used harmonics at the end of his last song!

Dennis London, another poet, came next.  His first piece was a rap in the middle of a song played over the speakers.  His second was, in my opinion, a love poem.  He called himself a “photographer by day” and talked about his newly-published book.  The book is about how happiness is earned.  The motivational speech he gave at the end of his performance seemed to be a snippet of that message.

After that, the dance group Ambiance performed.  They were an all-female group.  Their performance was an interesting mix of modern dance, showcasing fluidity of movement and form.  They also incorporated some ballet movements into the piece (which I only recognized because of a history of dance class I’m taking this semester) as interludes between dance exchanges.  I was sitting near the back, however, so it was difficult to see what they were doing sometimes as there was a lot of groundwork.

Unfortunately, my phone died during intermission and I was unable to take notes for the second part of the night.  It was, overall, a very cool experience.

REVIEW: Poets at Michigan, Then and Now

On Friday, April 7th, natural light filled the Rogel Ballroom as poetry enthusiasts gathered to learn about the UM poetry scene from the 20th century to now. Because I only attended two out of the three panels of the symposium, I will only be reviewing those two: “The Middle Years” and “The Art Continues: Contemporary Michigan Poets.” This symposium intended to highlight the history of poets at the University of Michigan (not just poets from the state) and where that history has brought us.

The Middle Years panel consisted of poet and current professor Laurence Goldstein, former professor John Knott, and the illustrious multi-genre writer and funeral home director Thomas Lynch. Current professor Cody Walker introduced the panel. Goldstein began the panel by discussing the “middle” history of poets at UM from Theodore Roethke to Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon. He opened with a poem by Anne Stevenson titled “Ann Arbor,” fittingly. He read mostly from his notes but clearly loves this subject and showed excitement about previous poets from here. He mused on Roethke never turning his coursework in until the very end of the semester and on Robert Hayden’s “proletarian poetry.” A notable closing quote from his portion: “You don’t have to be an English major to write great poetry.”

Next, Knott (who filled in for current poet XJ Kennedy, who originally was going to speak at the event) talked about the poetry of Roethke and Hayden as well as beginning the segue into today’s poetry scene. He read Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” and Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays,” both hallmarked poems about their respective fathers from their childhood perspectives. He discussed them in the context in which he taught these poems: thinking about their tones and complexity of the emotions and relationships. Before Lynch stood to talk, Knott finished his discussion by honoring the Helen Zell MFA program and comparing the old poetry scene to today’s, which is now lively and full of readings. He was also excited to be there and talk about our historical poets.

Lynch’s section was mostly him telling stories relevant to the middle years of UM poetry – he started by telling a recent one about his experience at the Russian Bathhouse with other writers. While he didn’t necessarily discuss specific MI poets, his stories were highly entertaining. He also noted (several times) the importance of buying books of living poets, gesturing to the Literati vendor in the back of the ballroom. His section and this panel ended with him reading his “unfinished and failing” poem, “Heaney-esque.”

Thomas Lynch telling his stories

The third panel was incredible: poets Jamaal May (who filled in for Tarfia Faizullah), Airea D. Matthews (filling in for Vievee Francis), and Laura Kasischke each read from their own works. This panel was a reading, so it gave a different energy than the previous panel and was a great end to a poet-filled day. Keith Taylor, poet and current director of the Creative Writing subconcentration, introduced this panel and told stories about each of the reading panelists.

Keith Taylor introducing Jamaal May, Airea D. Matthews, and Laura Kasischke

May began with some politically charged pieces and kept reading from his latest collection Big Book of Exit Strategies including pieces such as “I Have this Way of Being,” “There are Birds Here” (his famous Detroit poem, which he had memorized), “As the Saying Goes,” and “The Gun Joke.” He read a few pieces from his other collection Hum before closing with saying “I’ll never stop marvelling at the fact that people sit still while they listen to what’s in my head” and reading his poem “Now for My Last Trick.”

Jamaal May

Matthews began her section by discussing the return to representation and pattern-making. She read from her very new and very beautiful collection, Simulacra including: “Epigraph,” “On Meeting Want for the First Time,” “From the Pocket of His Lip,” “Rebel Opera,” “Letters to My Would Be on Dolls and Repeating” (probably my favorite), “Narcissus Tweets,” and “If My Late Grandmother Were Gertrude Stein.” Her poetry was poignant and emotion/language-driven, with an amazing focus on images. Some pieces had conversation threaded throughout. She explained that the last one began as a facebook status and informed the crowd that poets can start anywhere. She’s right.

Airea D. Matthews

Kasischke started the last reading by bringing up Frank O’Hara, a UM poet from the middle years, and how she didn’t hear anyone else discuss his work. She read his poem “Animals” before going into some of her funny and energetic, older poems. “You can’t swing a baguette in Ann Arbor without hitting a great poet,” she mused. Because she is a Michigan native and went to UM for several years, she said “When I die, they’ll have to mix my ashes with the cement and put it in a parking structure.” As for the poems she read: “Woman Kills Sweetheart with Bowling Ball” (inspired by a newspaper article by the same title), “Praying Mantis in My Husband’s Salad,” “Something You Should Know,” “What I Learned in 9th Grade,” “Two Men & A Truck,” “Time Machine,” and “Memory.”

Laura Kasischke

Each reading was incredible and I wouldn’t be surprised if the poets in the audience went home directly afterwards to write poetry inspired by what they had heard that afternoon. While the Middle Years panel taught us about older poets in more of a mini-lecture form, the third panel’s conglomerate of contemporary poetry was a great ending to the afternoon. If you’d like to learn more about poets at Michigan, consider taking Cody Walker’s English 340 course on the topic this fall semester.

PREVIEW: Poets at Michigan, Then and Now

Ever wondered what the poetry scene here at UM was like from the Robert Frost era to now? Didn’t know that Robert Frost taught here back in the day? Want to hear some current poets read their own work while enjoying some catered snacks? I have great news and a great event for you!

April 7th, 2017 (tomorrow) from 10am-4pm, there will be three panels:
10-11:30am – Robert Frost, the Hopwood Awards, and the History of Poetry at Michigan (discussed by Nicholas Delbanco, Paul Dimond, and Donald Sheehy)
1-2:30pm – The Middle Years (discussed by Laurence Goldstein, John Knott, and Thomas Lynch)
2:30-4pm – The Art Continues: Contemporary Michigan Poets (Tarfia Faizullah or Jamaal May, Vievee Francis, and Laura Kasischke)

This event will take place in the Union Rogel Ballroom and is part of the bicentennial celebration. See you there!*

University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Bicentennial Theme Semester Event: You Are Invited

*Due to a conflict I will be attending/reviewing only the 2nd and 3rd panels, however the 1st promises to be excellent as well.