This struggle, my blessed friends,
Each day we are confronted by a full range of chores,
and sadly, dilemmas.
Problems which we cannot solve
no matter how hard we labor.
So sadly, many people have given up
on the struggle.
I myself have given
But I finally realized
that WE are the struggle,
and even if I could
give up on myself,
I cannot and will not
ever give up on you, my fair friends.
-Jim Gustafson, From “Sermon: The Struggle,” published in Dispatch Detroit
Illness, money, death, separation, work, ignorance, failure, mistakes, heartbreak, loneliness—these are all struggles that everyone faces at some point. In the ten years that she’s run Dispatch Detroit, an annual book of poetry, editor Christine Monhollen has faced each of the above problems, yet she still wakes up each day to read poetry submissions when she could just let her small press fade as so many do over much less time. While perhaps she could give up on herself, it’s for her friends, her fellow poets, that she continues her publication—to provide them a medium to share their poetry.
Before turning to poetry, Monhollen fought many battles that ultimately defined who she is today. She describes her parents’ role in her life as “non-existent,” which meant she had to learn how to take care of herself, working nonstop since she was fourteen. She got married, but after they’d had two kids her husband left and she raised them on her own. In shouldering all of her own burdens, she’s transformed them into wonderful gifts. Her two boys are grown, and her skills in self-teaching and self-preservation have paid off in starting up Dispatch Detroit.
Work on Dispatch Detroit got off to a rocky start. The idea to do the press came from artist, Paul Schwarz, who had collaborated with Dennis Teichman and Deb King, founders of Past Tents Press. Past Tents Press has a strong, twenty year history of publishing poets, and the experience of the founders would be vital to Monhollen with Dispatch. Teichman contributed work and Deb King did cover designs for the book. With Dispatch Detroit, Monhollen and Schwarz wanted to publish a collaborative book of poetry from writers in the Detroit area. She felt that Detroit had lots of good writers, but they didn’t have the recognition or publishing opportunity as they might coming from New York or Los Angeles. At the same time, being a little bit beneath the radar meant that Detroit writers don’t have the same pressures that face L.A. or N.Y. writers—pressures of writing what an audience wants them to write – they could go further out on a limb. With that in mind, Monhollen and Schwarz set out to create Dispatch Detroit.
Sadly, before their work could really kick off, Schwarz was diagnosed with lung cancer, and things ground to a halt. Monhollen switched her focus to helping care for Schwarz deal with his illness. With their lives wrapped up in the routines of treating him, they decided that in order to get some normalcy back in their lives they needed to continue work on Dispatch Detroit. Monhollen re-typed submissions (as there were no discs or Internet to submit work through) and Schwarz edited them and the entire book. It wasn’t easy work, especially since Monhollen had to learn how to use several new computer programs such as Word and Photoshop on her own. With the work on Dispatch Detroit, the two had something to talk about besides Schwarz’s lung cancer.
In April 1998, Paul Schwarz died of lung cancer – a month before they published Volume One of Dispatch Detroit. Monhollen promised Schwarz she would finish this issue, and continue doing more if it was received well. She jumped into getting it finished while knowing nothing about how to finish it. She had to ask a lot of questions and make a lot of mistakes, and sometimes, she adds with a chuckle, she made the mistakes when she should have asked questions first. She included some of Schwarz’s artwork in volume one and used artwork by Ann Mikolowski for the cover. Monhollen dedicated this issue to the memory of one of her favorite poets, Jim Gustafson, but she would dedicate volume two in memory of Schwarz, and then volume four in memory of Mikolowski after her death in 1999. Schwarz’s death turned into new life in the form of Dispatch Detroit.
Volume one of Dispatch Detroit sold very well, and keeping true to her promise to Schwarz, Monhollen continued the book, releasing an issue almost every year. That initial one was the only issue that has sold very well, but she isn’t publishing the books to make money, just to get stories and poetry out into the literary world. Monhollen feels that poetry must be read, because if it is not, then the communication of poetry is only halfway complete. And Monhollen made sure at least some of her books got out, even if she had to sell them for half the price or even give them away for free because she strongly felt that her writers needed to be read.
As Monhollen learned a lot from publishing these books, she soon expanded her audience beyond Detroit. Fielding Dawson was among the first of the non-Detroit writers who Monhollen published, in volume four. He was a well-known writer whose presence helped expand the audience and bring more writers to Detroit and Detroit to more writers. In volume five, Monhollen decided to include contributor bios, and in volume six, she had a no-war section featuring poems that protested the imminent war in Iraq, many of which were read at the Zeitgeist Gallery. Along with Deb King, she’s also had help with cover designs from several other people including both Kathleen Gross of KPG Studio in San Francisco and Norene Cashen, Monhollen’s co-editor of the last two issues. Monhollen has also worked on two chapbooks, which each required immense amounts of labor: thousands of cuttings and pasting. Each individual chapbook was handmade in a group effort. She also published one book of poetry by a single writer, “Saw Horse” by Mick Vranich. All in all, between 1998 and 2007, Monhollen has published eight volumes of Dispatch Detroit, two chapbooks, one book of poetry, and is currently working on volume nine of Dispatch Detroit. It’s been a busy ten years for her, and she’s still going strong.
Even with the hard work she’s put into Dispatch, Monhollen has been able to find time to do her own artwork. Her own home is a wonderful piece of art, from the tables to the pictures hanging on the wall by Paul Schwarz and others. Her backyard is gorgeous and cozy, with a small, man-made brook surrounded by colorful rocks and ferns. Her brilliant work can be viewed from her porch, made up of neatly arranged bricks that Monhollen put in herself. Inside she has more of her own artwork, in particular her poetry boxes. Poetry boxes are wooden boxes covered with clear hard plastic with a background filled with “visual noise,” or clippings of typed works, such as her own writings. Within each poetry box are several rotatable tubes that have printed upon them about three or four lines of poetry each. The tubes sit in a row vertically and can be turned in order to find a line that the viewer finds interesting. In the end, the viewer can combine the lines in the row in order to make a poem. One of her poetry boxes has fifteen lines, and it was calculated that about six million poems could be created from it. One could say, then, that technically Monhollen has written more than six million poems.
Some of Monhollen’s own poetry is on display at Oakwood Hospital this July, accompanying a series of sculptural pieces by fellow artist, Dolores Slowinski (frequent contributor to thedetroiter.com). Slowinski’s work is like a visual diary structure, where pieces fitted on the structure symbolize a page of a diary. It’s like a cluster of memories or thoughts put into an object. Monhollen’s poetry is based on these diary structures.
In mentioning Monhollen’s creations, her sons must also be included in the picture. Monhollen’s son, Mark Graf, a photographer takes close-up photos of wildlife, and much of his work has been bought by Henry Ford Hospital and others. You can catch his work at www.grafphoto.com. Her other son, Kevin Graf, is also an artist of sorts, taking photographs of motorcycles and also restoring them. Both sons are deeply supportive of Dispatch and Monhollen’s other art ventures.
With all of these rewards in her life, it seems like the hard work and perseverance has more than paid off.
For more information on Dispatch Detroit, including contact information and mailing address, visit www.doorjambpress.org. Issues of Dispatch Detroit can be found at the website, or at the Special Collection Library in SUNY, Buffalo; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Wayne State University’s library; and Book Beat in Oak Park.
Chris Thompson is an English major at Oakland University, where he learned how to juggle school, work, writing, friends, and fencing.
Dispatch Detroit is holding a poetry contest for Issue nine of its publication. For those who would like to submit, read the following guidelines:
Poetry Contest Rules
1. Submit Poetry only - not open to fiction or short stories
2. Any writer/poet who has been published in Dispatch since 1998 can’t be considered
3. Submit as many poems as you want but the submission should not exceed 10 pages.
4. All submissions must include notations on irregular spelling or formatting.
5. No email submissions will be accepted. Only paper submissions sent to Doorjamb Press PO Box 1296 Royal Oak, MI 48068-1296.
6. Each submission must include a review fee of $5 review with a self addressed/stamped envelope and email address (in case of questions). (note: not $5 per poem)
7. There will be 2 writers selected and featured in the next volume of Dispatch Detroit (Vol. 9)Scheduled for January 2008.
8. Submissions must be postmarked no later than August 31, 2007.
First summer selections! This month we bring you two poets who know a little something about the area, as well as that big, bad New York City. Bob Laine spends a good portion of his year there, germinating his delightful panache; T.M. Swill takes a version of Gotham on as subject matter for one of the poems here. While there is no necessary need for any more attention to NY, I simply could not resist from sharing these seemingly barbed verses.
Bob Laine with “I’m Not Responsible for What You Think I Mean” and T.M. Swill with “New York City” and “Snobbed.”
Thank you for seeing us through a healthy and vibrant spring of lit selections. We look forward to your continued readership and a basking summer of whatever it is you might enjoy about the summer.
To be a part of thedetroiter.com’s lit section, see our Call for Submissions here.(All subs and questions can be sent to email@example.com).
Thank you & happy reading.
Poetry & Fiction Editor
I’m Not Responsible for What You Think I Mean
“You don’t have to die alone. Helen. MSW.”
Ads shouldn’t be allowed to say so much
He believes this fervently
Simultaneously as he thinks it
But minutes before he can even begin to verbalize
What those two lines on the back of a FREE
That wasn’t because he
Wasn’t in Manhattan
Say to him
When he does try
Minutes after to verbalize
He voices his first thought
Four times before he actually thinks it once
It takes a fifth time for
To hear it
Because she is busy listening to the ad herself
She is concentrating on
What those two lines on the back of a FREE
That was because he paid for it
Were saying to her
When she finally does hear it/him/his thought
She knows even before he
With the confidence of finally understanding what he’s saying
Repeats it a sixth time
That the thought is not about her
That the thought is his sole property
Somewhere between the fifth time he says it
Which is the first time she hears it
And the sixth time he says it
Which is the first time he understands it
For the first time
That the two stories those two lines tell him
Are not the stories they tell her
She will think
And seconds late firmly believe
Simultaneously while thinking it
Only many moments ago
Ads shouldn’t be allowed to say so much
Bob Laine is a poet, playwright and actor. A graduate of Eastern Michigan University, he has been performing his original work since 1991 in Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, Chicago and New York. He was on the 1995 Chicago National Poetry Slam team. His play What’s That Buzz? opened in New York in 1999. A review of a winter performance can be found in thedetroiter.com here.
New York City
Instead of writing I tear chunks off cardigan sweaters,
Throw them at the wall: thwap.
Instead of writing I stride topless to the kitchen,
Smear Kraft Singles on my nipples.
Why do I miss my mom?
Instead of writing I kick the wall.
Instead…I sit under my desk;
Ink-scratch the jacket of my favorite book,
Hirschwire’s The Broken Elm
Instead of writing a poem better than this poem
I stuff large droplets in jars.
Want to spit in her pretty
mouth and tear/claw at his over-
bored eyeballs; mount their fresh
mutilations like five-point bucks.
Want to redecorate this Starbucks:
draw a new crowd
to watch her lipstick peel and
her (unknowingly) dog-haired hood
accrue a thick swath of dust.
Metro poets will swarm to this inspiration!
T.M. Swill lives in Detroit and attends Monroe community college. Swill enjoys tennis, coffee, amateur cryptography, and frequent trips to New York City.