A gifted poet with a distinguished career was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship this week. Hayan Charara returns to Detroit as part of the Woodward Line Poetry Series. Cave Canem Fellow Christina Archer and Kevin Rashid a poet who manages the Wayne State University Honors Program round out the reading. The Woodward Line Poetry Series for December takes place Wednesday, December 17 at 7:00 PM at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) 4454 Woodward Avenue Detroit. This free event is supported in part by Poets and Writers Inc.
Hayan Charara is the author of two books of poetry, The Alchemist’s Diary and The Sadness of Others. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications, among them Chelsea, Cream City Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and the anthology American Poetry: The Next Generation. Born in Detroit, he lived for many years in New York City before moving to Texas. “Hayan drew attention early on,” said Kim Hunter, Woodward Line Co-director. “He produced work that was mature beyond his years and managed to publish anthologies with greats like Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Levine and Naomi Shihab Nye. “
Charara‚s NEA Fellowship is a $25,000 award, given to encourage the production of new work and allow writers the time and means to write. The Fellowship is another highpoint in a career that includes a 2006 National Book Award nomination for his book of verse, The Sadness of Others.
Write Word, Write Now founder, Christina M. Archer received her Bachelor’s Degree in Marine Biology and is a Cave Canem Fellow. She was an assistant coach to the Detroit Poetry Slam team in 2003 and the head coach in both 2004 and 2005. She also mentors youth two after school poetry programs. InsideOut Literary Arts Project’s City Wide Poets, and Leaps and Bounds in the city of Warren.
Kevin Rashid manages Wayne State University‚s Honors College and the Office of Undergraduate Research. He teaches creative writing and his poems have appeared in several books: Inclined to Speak, Abandon Automobile: Detroit City 2001; Arab Detroit: from Margins to Mainstream and various journals.
By Mariela Griffor
Mayapple Press; $14.95, 62 pp.
You’ve probably never been chased by the secret police. Most likely you have never used a code name, had your fiancé murdered by the government, or been involuntarily exiled to a foreign country.
All of those things (and more) happened to the poet Mariela Griffor.
A current resident of Grosse Pointe Park, she is a survivor of the terrifying Pinochet regime (1973-1990) in Chile, a reign which was responsible for the abduction, torture, and murder of thousands of people in concentration camps and secret prisons.
We humans have a particular urge to seek meaning, to transform confusion into conclusion. Griffor’s newest book of poems, House, is one such quest. We can never escape our past, the poet writes.
Released October 2007, this is Griffor’s second full-length collection of poetry. Her first, Exiliana, was published in Toronto, Canada. This time, Griffor can boast a more local publisher: Mayapple Press, located in Bay City.
When I asked Griffor to explain the title of the book, she answered, “For most people a house symbolizes a very concrete and tangible thing. For me, House is my language, my traditions, the abstract fibers of existence. I live in a space where things that should be concrete are not anymore.”
Beyond an interesting title, the book is, simply, gorgeous. Its cover is the most alluring of all the poetry covers on my shelf—and I own A LOT of poetry.
In terms of subject matter, House is about pillow talk, stars in the sky, and childhood innocence. It is about torture chambers, bloodshed done in the name of God. It praises love for an aunt, a grandmother, a daughter, a friend. Its prayers need answers from a God sometimes not felt or found. Have we offended You?, the poet pleads.
The words of House spring from a mind whose mother tongue is not English—therefore we can forgive her sometimes far from bull’s-eye diction. For example, in “Twenty-Nine: Yellow Ribbons,” she writes, My skin is curdled with hope. This expression is odd. When speaking of hope, a writer should select a word more positively charged, such as “brimming” or “shining.” Yet these kinds of mistakes can be forgiven, as Griffor’s art does the important job of reminding one that murder is murder in any country; tears are tears no matter what the nationality.
In tone, House is not ethereal poetry: rather it is useful, made of stone and wood. It will not bring you out of the world, but rather set you flatly on the world, showing you atrocities as well as its beauties.
There is a singular sense of desperation in the work (Notice me! Notice me!) and a sense that only in the writing will any meaning be found—meaning which would heal the past wounds; it is only in language that Griffor’s serenity can be reclaimed. In “Fourteen: Beyond the Red Traffic Light,” she matter-of-factly states, The place where I was born is lost. Money does me no good.
One of the best poems is “Six: Song for Chile,” a version of which was published originally in Exiliana. Here in House, the poem has been revamped. Griffor’s editing is nicely done, and the improvement to the piece is undeniable. In it, Griffor addresses Chile directly, saying:
Everything I love nearby and in the distance,
everything has gone to a tiny place, remote,
where you, like a miracle,
appear five seconds each daybreak.
Griffor recently told me, “‘Song for Chile’ was one of the most painful poems I ever wrote. It came to me when I left Chile for a second time…I knew then I would never return to that place that I love so much.”
The strongest sections of House are the first two and the last two poems. Her prologue and conclusion effectively draw the reader in and close the reader to the work. My ultimate favorite of the entire book is the last, “Hair of Sand” (another revamped poem, first printed in Exiliana), which discusses the need to keep alive her mother tongue of Spanish. She explains that this language:
revives me and wraps me
in her cape of sun and shadows
of water and ice and so
I become myself
Griffor’s sentiment here calls to mind the brilliance of Alice Walker, who wrote in an essay “Coming In from the Cold” (Living by the Word, 1988): “If we kill off the sound of our ancestors, the major portion of us, all that is past, that is history, that is human being is lost, and we become historically and spiritually thin, a mere shadow of who we were, on the earth.”
House is Mariela Griffor’s stubborn mixture of dark reality and bright hope. It is a book of both the sour and the sweet. In “Three: Either-Or,” Griffor writes, there is more hope/in eel soup than in the promises governments want us to buy.
Beyond House, Mariela Griffor is a writer who has done wonders for our local literary arts. She is the Publisher of Marick Press and the founder of the Institute for Creative Writers at Wayne State University. She is the Honorary Consul of Chile in Michigan, and is a dedicated organizer of events and readings across Metro Detroit.
My hope is that she will one day try her hand at short stories or novels. Her voice and style convey narratives well, and the amazing tales from her life deserve to be heard by an even wider audience. In this frivolous time, U.S. citizens need to realize politics are more than flashy presidential debates…no, politics are as serious and crucial as love. Folks need to hear the warnings of the poets; of Mariela Griffor, a woman who sometimes seems almost radical in her simple truisms…like in “Fifteen: Futuristic,” she writes:
Principles are like coals turning into ashes
in an open fire.
To defend life stubbornly has lost its value.
To live without life is not absurd.
And, finally, let’s not forget House’s best line of all, from “Seventeen: Santiago Revisited:”
Suburban life is a bastard.
House is available for sale on amazon.com and mayapplepress.com. Check out the poet’s website at http://www.marielagriffor.com
Hear Griffor read from House, December 14th, 6:30pm, at The Poets Follies reading and discussion group.
Poets Follies is located at the Marick Press Offices at 15120 Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Park. For more info. on this event, please contact Griffor directly at email@example.com, or 313-407-9236.
In Michigan writer Andy Mozina’s newest collection, “The Women Were Leaving The Men,” the author’s short story trail leads through thirteen different experiences that will connect the reader intimately in private relationships with personal demons and cultural phenomena. Each is written with varied tone and unique narration so the reader never picks up on the writer’s proclivities toward a certain style or method.
In “Privacy, Love, Loneliness,” teenagers with unique views on the world a bit beyond their age, begin a romantic relationship, even though both appear to be a little unstable. Mozina creates characters here that are self-aware and funny, while also being conscious of their impending entry into the full time adult world that is both confusing and dangerous. The dialogue between characters is the real charm, as in this excerpt where the two are meeting outside of a class for the first time:
“Do you mind if I get something out of my locker?” I said, dropping my book bag.
“Sure,” she said, and she stepped aside.
When I didn’t care, I had a way of talking that she liked, but now I cared, so I couldn’t talk. I took my English notebook out of my locker and held it with two hands, like a fancy plate. “Can I talk to you later?” I said, walking away. “Please don’t try to follow me.”
“Hey, I wanted to talk to you.”
“I’m not safe to be around right now.”
“You’re telling me,” she yelled, and she stomped the heel of her right foot…
Another favorite is “The Arch,” where lawyer Stephen Wendell Osborne finds himself booted from his corporate job for throwing a deal just so he could have “knowledge” of opposing council’s lovely feet. When he meets Doris Chanilowski, whose fetish is storing things in her vagina, they set out together to fight their demons, but have mixed results. Dialogue is, again, a strength in this story, but Mozina also has ample talent with prose as is demonstrated in the following example:
“By way of analogy with his own psyche, he sees deep into the pathology of St. Louis: an American city whose butt has been kicked, first by Chicago, then by so many other cities, a metro area that hasn’t felt completely OK since the 1904 World’s Fair left town, a city aware of some deep deficiency in its relationship to all other cities. It must find love and power somehow. It will make do with the Arch’s gleaming, eternally spreading legs.”
In the title story “The Women Were Leaving The Men,” the main character is divorced and, fortunately for him, Mr. Mozina seems to have an absolute understanding of both women’s and men’s confusion and loss over this sad passage of modern life. The understanding of unusual people in varied situations is prevalent throughout this collection and is the real and rare strength of Mr. Mozina’s writing.
“The Women Were Leaving the Men” by Andy Mozina is part of the “Made In Michigan Writers Series.” It is available through Wayne State University Press, and other vendors.
Tyler Hill is a Michigan writer himself. He has written articles for several regional outlets, on topics ranging from the arts to politics. A selection of his poetry ran in the May 2007 thedetroiter.com’s lit section. This is his first book review with thedetroiter.com.
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