PREVIEW: The How and the Why

Theatre Nova’s latest show, The How and the Why, is another play with its roots in science. I’ve seen two similar ones over the last year, and I’ve been favorably impressed by both. One of those, incidentally, was the last show of Theatre Nova’s I saw, Constellations, which was beautifully done and makes me incredibly excited to see another of their shows. The How and the Why is about evolutionary biology – my favorite scientific subject to read and learn about – and has as its main characters a mother and daughter who are both renowned evolutionary biologists. Add to this the fact that the daughter proposes a new theory of female sexuality, and this play might just be everything I’m looking for in a literary work.

The How and the Why runs through February 24. Tickets are $22 each (or if you have a financial limitation, pay-what-you-need tickets are available at the door). More information about Theatre Nova and the play can be found here.

REVIEW: Poetry Reading by Hannah Ensor + Suzi Garcia

This was the first poetry reading I attended this year. I have not been to Crazy Wisdom in a long time, and I forgot how unique the space is. They sell books, art, jewelry, incense, tarot cards, fair trade products, etc. The tea room is upstairs, just like at Literati.

I did not realize that both Hannah Ensor and Suzi Garcia were reading at the event. Since I gave some background information on Hannah Ensor in my preview, here is some information on Suzi Garcia: she has an MFA in Creative Writing with minors in Screen Cultures and Gender Studies, and she has presented and taught poetry at multiple national conferences. She is a valuable mentor and editor to Ensor and was instrumental to the publication of Ensor’s first book of poetry.

I enjoyed hearing Ensor and Garcia’s unique styles. Ensor made a lot of pop culture references, as the description of the event promised. Her pieces were mostly conversational and captured the mundane to transform into literary pieces. Garcia, on the other hand, utilized a lot of metaphor and analogy. Her poems were emotional, raw, and often explored the theme of earthliness.

During the event, the poets also talked about their sources of inspiration, which were thought-provoking. Ensor talked about writing in a parking lot of Planet Fitness and how a poem was partially inspired by a screening of Jurassic Park. Garcia talked about how one of her poems emerged from three factors: the desire to find a home for a couplet she had written, being inspired by an old song she knew, and a mentor encouraging her to write about her childhood. All these motivations mashed together into one finished product. Another one of her poems came from listening to Carly Rae Jepsen’s song, “Run Away With Me.”

While it may be humorous to hear where both poets found their sources of inspiration, it is also sensible. I often hear people describe inspiration as rare and profound—as if artists are zapped by lightning from Zeus or launched into manic creativity by the use of psychedelics, and then go on to create great literary pieces or famous works of art like “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke or Autumn Rhythm by Jackson Pollock. As an aspiring poet, I know daily enlightenment is unsustainable. Practically, inspiration mostly comes from the mundane. Everything (objects, constraints, concepts) is worthy of a poem or artistic piece upon closer examination. But execution is difficult. I was given the prompt by my 400 level poetry writing class: “write a poem where the movement from one scene to another affects the structure and/or mood of the poem,” and I am currently scuffling with a blank page.

Aside from inspiration, this poetry event also made me consider the difference between hearing and reading poetry. Ensor and Garcia are clearly both written poets first and spoken poets second. It is quite obvious actually. When you read silently, the body of a poem is its layout on a page: the amount of white space, line breaks, enjambment, punctuation, etc. When you listen, the body of a poem is the voice (of the poet, yourself, another reader speaking out loud), rhythm, posture, gestures, etc. In poetry that is spoken, rhyming and rhythm becomes more evident and (arguably) increases in importance. Take Benjamin Zephaniah, a British poet and activist, for example. He is a spoken poet first, a written poet second. Hear his voice and the joy with which he performs “Dis Poetry.” Another example is Sarah Kay, an American poet dedicated to using spoken word as an educational and inspirational tool. See how facial expressions and gestures are essential to her piece “Point B.”

During Ensor and Garcia’s reading, they relied on minimal gestures, rhythm, and word-play to convey their pieces. This does not make them good or bad poets. Rather, it reveals their niche study (and perhaps interest) in written poetry. The event was not a spoken word poetry event; it was a poetry reading event. And a good one at that. I appreciated the casual atmosphere, both physically and intellectually. It was a great place for written poets and enthusiasts to come and celebrate the beauty of language.

PREVIEW: Hopwood Awards Ceremony with Natasha Tretheway

The esteemed poet Natasha Tretheway will be reading at the Hopwood Awards Ceremony tomorrow Jan 30 from 6-8:30 PM in the Rackham Auditorium. Her work has won many accolades from the Pulitzer Prize to longlistings for the National Book Award. Tretheway seamlessly merges traditional and non-conventional styles in her poetry and powerfully comments on history as a contemporary poet. The even will also announce and celebrate its student writers who won the 2019 Hopwood Awards. I look forward to a delightful evening of literature with the creative writing community on campus. This event is free.

REVIEW: Yule Ball

I attended the Michigan Quidditch Team’s Yule Ball with the idea of evaluating how well it brought the magic of Hogwarts into a Muggle college world. As a result, this post is not about the success of the ball as a social event and fun excuse for dressing up; it is about the success of the ball as an artistic interpretation and translation of Hogwarts.

As I understand it, the purpose of the Hogwarts Yule Ball was to provide a formal setting for the students to enjoy themselves and interact with other students. I think the UM Yule Ball could have done better on all three fronts – my overall comment is that it was a little disjointed. For one, instead of producing a Yule Ball experience, they attempted to provide a more generic Hogwarts one. Their decorations included a chess set with knee-high pieces, a Sorting Hat photo booth, and two sets of Quidditch hoops festooned with string lights. While successfully evocative of Hogwarts, these pieces didn’t do much to convey the sense of elegance I would have expected of a Yule Ball. Naturally, the Michigan Quidditch Team doesn’t have the same budget Hogwarts presumably has, or the ability to create decorations out of nothing. However, having planned similar events myself, I do believe it would absolutely have been possible to come up with an equally photograph-worthy set of elegant decorations that didn’t exhaust the budget, especially since this is something the Quidditch team holds every year and therefore the purchases they make could be seen as long-term investments.

In accordance with that, I think it was unclear exactly how formal the ball was intended to be: while most people did dress formally, there were others wearing casual clothes and even within the formal clothes there was a wide range of formality. I rather imagine Professor McGonagall would not have approved.

It was interesting to note, however, that teenagers have not changed much. I was reminded of Harry and Ron sitting on the side refusing to dance with their dates, partially courtesy of the number of phones that were being looked at while their owners slouched at the periphery of the League Ballroom, completely disengaged from the rest of the happenings. So as a venue for “fraternizing,” as Ron put it, there was very little of that happening either. Even in Hogwarts people were more willing to ask other people to dance (recall both Parvati and Padma Patil being asked to dance by boys from Beauxbatons), whereas here there wasn’t even that much dancing. The only real enthusiasm came with the select few songs people obsess over (like “Africa”). A major contributing factor to this was probably the fact that the playlist appeared to have been crowdsourced, so nobody had curated a list of dancing-appropriate songs in an order that made sense. This added to the overall disjointed nature of the event – at the Hogwarts Yule Ball, the Weird Sisters performed for the entire duration of the ball.

For a more faithful interpretation of the Hogwarts Yule Ball, the UM Yule Ball could have done with a little more vision. A cohesive conception of how they wanted the ball to go, and some added structure in how they set about achieving that conception, would have improved the experience of the Yule Ball considerably.

PREVIEW: Poetry Reading by Hannah Ensor

Hey poetry enthusiasts, Crazy Wisdom is putting on a poetry reading event tomorrow evening featuring Hannah Ensor. A little about Ensor: she’s a poet living in Ypsilanti, a UM Residential College alum, and the assistant director of the Hopwood Program (which hosts a variety of highly competitive contests and prizes for students at UM). She has a lot of experience with publishing, especially on topics such as pop culture, sports, and mass media. She co-wrote the chapbook, at the intersection of 3, and was associate editor of Bodies Built for Game, an anthology of contemporary sports literature. Love Dream With Television is her first book of poems.

This event is part of Crazy Wisdom’s poetry series. The second Wednesday of the month are poetry workshop nights. On the fourth Wednesday there is a featured reader for 50 minutes and then open mic for an hour. The events are free and open to the public. Everyone is encouraged to participate in the open mic.

Come out and support one of our alums!


Location: Crazy Wisdom Tea Room

Date, Time: 1/23/19, 7-9pm

Price: Free

Crazy Wisdom Events:

REVIEW: Carrie Newcomer

Carrie Newcomer’s music has long been a favorite of mine, but her Sunday evening concert at the Ark only deepened my appreciation of her artistry. At times quiet and contemplative, and at other times toe-tapping, the night’s program took the audience on quite a journey. It included several new songs from her upcoming album, as well as old classics for those familiar with Newcomer’s music, a poem from one of her two books of poetry and essays, and more than one occasion in which the audience was invited to join in song. She was joined by pianist Gary Walters.

Carrie Newcomer is at once wise, humble, humorous, and down-to-earth, all of which was evident as soon as the concert began. Rather than a far-off stage with the audience below, the atmosphere was one of a room filled with friends. Between each song, Newcomer shared musings and anecdotes, some which left the audience laughing, and others which left the audience silent in thought, but it is her music that I think communicates most deeply. It is clear to me that one woman and her acoustic guitar can communicate truth and wisdom more intensely than most of us could ever imagine.

In introducing her song If Not Now, Newcomer discussed hope. Hope, she said, is taking all that is, and all that could be, and working every day to narrow the distance between the two. The song’s refrain reflects often unnoticed work of those with this kind of hope: “If not now, tell me when / If not now, tell me when / We may never see this moment / Or place in time again / If not now, if not now, tell me when.”

Betty’s Diner, another song that Newcomer performed, celebrates the range of humanity that passes through the restaurant Betty’s Diner (“I’m an artist, so I’ve waitressed,” she remarked, to laughter).

On a separate note, if you’ve never been to the Ark, I would highly recommend it! The performance space, or listening room as it is called, is an intimate space that seats 400 people or so. It isn’t every day that one gets to sit in the front row at a concert of one of their favorite artists, but that is what I was lucky enough to experience at Carrie Newcomer’s performance! Most performances are general admission, and there are also tables in front of the stage that audience members can choose to sit at.

Carrie Newcomer manages to celebrate and affirm life, while challenging the audience to live each moment more intentionally, all within the space of musical notes. I don’t think that I could get tired of listening to her music!