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Poetry is alive in Detroit

Ryan Felton | Posted: Monday, February 20, 2012 12:00 am

Phreddy Wischusen doesn’t feel good.

At least that’s the impression one might have had after hearing him speak at a poetry reading hosted by local literary publication [sic] Feb. 11.

Wischusen, 31, a tall man who dons thick-rimmed glasses, a mop of curly dark brown hair, and, on that particular night, a royal blue set of overalls complemented by an olive green cardigan, capped off an evening of performances by unloading two lengthy, impromptu diatribes.

He spoke fervently about the negative effects of achieving the American dream and grudgingly having to own up to responsibilities. The performance took place in front of a crowded room at OmniCorp – an impressive workspace in Eastern Market where artists of all walks gather daily to collaborate on various projects. At times, Wischusen pointed a gun, formed by a thumb-index finger combo, to a front-row attendee’s head for effect and

dynamically shifted his delivery with absolute ease.

“Come talk with me afterward,” Wischusen said cheerily, to conclude his bit. The crowd applauded wildly.

OmniCorp was an ideal setting for the reading, which was held to correspond with the release of [sic]’s second volume of poetry chapbooks.

The roughly 4,000-square-foot building is essentially an artistic paradise: an enormous, open room filled with a plethora of tools and utilities all in an arm’s reach for any need that might come about during one’s creative experience. The intimate lighting, coupled with an unbroken 90-foot scroll by local artist Ben Bunk entitled “Drawing Detroit,” presented a pleasant backdrop for the event. Bunk’s work of meticulous line drawings depicting neighborhoods and notable landmarks wrapped area around the seating area and offered a unique perspective of the city.

[sic] was an idea conceived last spring by Jonathan Rajewski, 25, and Achille Bianchi, 26, after Rajewski returned home from a trip to Paris with a couple chapbooks by award-winning British poet Jack Underwood in tow.

Rajewski eagerly showed the collections off to Bianchi over a meal at Detroit Motor City Brewery. Upon viewing them, Bianchi suggested doing something similar.

Bianchi said he simply argued, “We could totally do this. We got the talent here.”

They didn’t think twice.

“It wasn’t even a thought, it was more of an afterthought,” said Bianchi, who learned from scratch how to do editorial design while working at the Michigan Citizen as a copy editor. “We kind of just did it.”

The pair used canny entrepreneurial skills and social media to get the word out about the project. Their previous experience with self-starting business ventures and Bianchi’s ability to design allowed the majority of production work to stay between the two of them – another factor in the ease of producing the first volume.

*Poetry as-is*

Although Detroit has a reputation for an outstanding arts scene, local independent authors have lacked an outlet such as [sic] to showcase their work.

By last fall, after months of organizing, the project had come to fruition. Bianchi and Rajewski’s intention was to release four volumes, each featuring a handful of poets, with every writer’s respective collection included in a separate book.

For the reading series held in honor of each release they planned to include art, installations and music to have more than just the poets featured in the particular series perform, creating a well-rounded landscape.

In October they celebrated the release of the first volume at Leopold’s Books on Woodward Avenue. According to Bianchi, around 30 people attended and it went off without a hitch like the multidisciplinary arts event they envisioned.

“After we did it, all of these poets came out of the woodwork asking, ‘Hey can we submit?’” Bianchi said.

The contributions came in almost effortlessly from local and out-of-state writers – even some abroad. The second release of [sic] featured three writers – Amy Lawless, Allyson Paty and Mike Lala – who flew in from New York City for the reading.

Neither Bianchi nor Rajewski expected the larger turnout that came to OmniCorp. Prior to the reading Bianchi, an energetic and engaging individual who speaks poignantly about Detroit, said: “We don’t plan on having big readings. It’s not really for everybody.”

That expectation was surpassed far and beyond, as nearly five times the amount of people who were at Leopold’s last winter showed up for the second reading series.

At one point, Rajewski remarked to the crowd that he never expected a poetry reading in Detroit would draw such a large crowd.

His assumption may have been completely reasonable. There were a number of attendees who were taken aback by the event and mentioned they’ve never seen or heard of a poetry reading at that large of a scale taking place in Detroit.

Prior to the event, Bianchi added that he saw the idea of [sic]’s reading series as somewhat similar to the gatherings poets of the Beat Generation had in New York City during the 1950s.

Considering accounts of, say, Allen Ginsberg’s intimate readings of his seminal work “Howl” to a warm reception from New York crowds who were seemingly having the time of their lives, the [sic] reading series in Detroit can draw numerous parallels.

Everyone in attendance was visibly vibrant and delighted to be present at a fresh, artistically driven event in the city.

Assumedly, to some, the name [sic] – a common editing word used to denote a quoted word that appears odd or misspelled to show it stands originally – might have already been in use by another literary mag.

But the idea to check first, Bianchi said while laughing, didn’t actually strike him or Rajewski until after the first volume was released. When it dawned on them to actually check, a handful of publications already carrying the name turned up.

Neither was frayed at the prospect of potentially catching flack for using the name.

With the on-the-fly style the duo adopted initially with developing the project, the name is genuinely fitting and encapsulates the idea of [sic]’s publications and eclectic reading series wonderfully.

“The entire meaning of the word is ‘this is how we bring it to you,’” Bianchi said, analogizing the word with the project. “That’s kind of the entire beauty of the publication. It’s just as-is.”