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Cass Corridor Culture: In and Around Wayne State, 1960s-1980s: Poetry

On Poetry In Detroit

From the introduction to Abandon Automobile: Detroit City Poetry 2001, edited by Melba Joyce Boyd and M. L. Liebler (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001), pages 23-28

            “…The unique contribution of Detroit poetry to American literature is as distinct as the city’s historical contribution to the Industrial Revolution. Before Henry Ford induced thousands to work in his factories for five dollars a day, Detroit was largely regarded as a port city..."

This essay has been used with permission from Wayne State University Press. To read the rest of the essay, click on the document link below:

Student Essays on Detroit Poetry

These essays were written by WSU students in ENG 5480, a literature course taught by Dr. Todd Duncan.

The first essay, by Edward Baranek, discusses the intersection of Detroit poetry and music. He offers examples of the work of John Lee Hooker,
Etheridge Knight, M.L. Liebler, the poets and jazz musicians of the Detroit Artists Workshop, etc.

The second essay, by Sarah Pokornicki, chronicles the work of U.S. Poet Laureate and Detroit native, Philip Levine, and the changing perceptions of Detroit.

More About Detroit Poets

Melba Joyce Boyd - Speaking about Detroit writers and being black in Detroit at the WSU Fall Humanities Symposium 2011

Dudley Randall - A reading of 5 of his poems and a brief biography

Naomi Long Madgett (website)

Detroit Poets Laureate

"We burn this city every day"  -Philip Levine

Prominent poets with Detroit roots include:

Roberty Hayden was named the first African American Poet Laureate of the United States, in 1976. (At that time, it was called the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress). He grew up in Detroit's Paradise Valley, and attended the City College of Detroit, which later became Wayne State University.

Philip Levine was the United States Poet Laureate in 2011. He grew up in Detroit, and was heavily influenced by working in its auto factories and his study of poetry at Wayne University (now WSU).

Dudley Randall became the city of Detroit's Poet Laureate in 1981. He established the Broadside Press, which played a key role in Detroit's expression of the Black Arts Movement.

Naomi Long Madgett began publishing poetry at seventeen, founded the Lotus Press, as a high school English teacher taught the first course in African American literature in Detroit Public Schools, and went on to teach at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. She was named the City of Detroit's Poet Laureate in 2001, and is the winner of the 2012 Kresge Foundation Eminent Artist Award.

Search for Articles

Try these WSU licensed article databases. Full text articles are accessible by WSU affiliates only.

"Detroit City Poets" Oral Histories

Brenda Goodman, Alternative Press

"Poem" drawing by Brenda Goodman

Melba Joyce Boyd's words in memory of Mick Vranich aptly describe the world of the Cass Corridor poets, who...

"could rock a poem
about hard knocks
in Detroit
like a siren protesting
murdered dreams"

(from Crystallizing the Moon, 2011)

The following poets have been interviewed for the "Detroit City Poets Oral History Project" by Canadian researcher and documentarian, Monika Berenyi. The CDs are available for checkout from the Undergraduate Library. Click on interviewee names to get to library catalog records with call numbers.

More Detroit Independent Poetry Presses

Independent Detroit Poetry Presses:

  • Detroit Artists Workshop Press
  • Lotus Press - An African American poetry press, established in 1972 by Naomi Long Madgett  -- link to Lotus Press Collection (part of African American Literature Special Collection) at the Purdy-Kresge Graduate Library
  • Detroit River Press
  • Past Tents Press -founded in 1985 the Press supports and publishes writers who live, work or have a history of involvement in Detroit's cultural communities.
  • Doorjamb Press - published Dispatch Detroit, a local poetry magazine, from 1998-2007 (available at the Undergraduate Library)

Bibliography of Detroit Literature

Bibliography of Detroit Literature: Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Creative Nonfiction - From Marygrove College in Detroit, and compiled by Frank D. Rashid (Professor of English at Marygrove),Thomas A. Klug, Jamie Babcock, Cassie Atkinson, and Laurie LePain Kopack

A comprehensive list of works by and about Detroiters.

Featured Books- Detroit Poets

Broadside Press

The Broadside Press, established by poet Dudley Randall, played an integral role in Detroit's manifestation of the national Black Arts Movement. It published works of African American poets, who had often struggled to find publishers for their writings. You can find works from the Broadside Press in:

At the University of Detroit-Mercy: