East Lansing’s poets strenghen Greater Lansing community

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Grace Carras and Ruelaine Stokes at a discussion of Margaret Atwood's poetry.

As a university town, East Lansing has a reputation for being home to many thinkers, students, and academics, making it an ideal location to foster a long-standing artistic community.

There are eclectic string bands, frequent gallery openings, and, specifically, there is a large community of poets that exist separately from the nearby Michigan State University.

Grace Carras and Ruelaine Stokes at a discussion of Margaret Atwood’s poetry.

One example is The Poetry Room, run by Grace Carras and Masaki Takahashi.

“Along with Masaki, I host a monthly poetry open-mic extravaganza down at the Robin Theater called The Poetry Room. We try to encourage everyone to come and share their work,” Carras said.

The Poetry Room is a small venue for spoken word poems that also features a series of workshops and special guest readers, Carras said. The venue itself is in Lansing proper, however, both hosts live and organize the monthly shows from East Lansing, and their attendees are predominately East Lansing poets.

“We get a lot of community members, students, some people who’ve traveled a little bit to get here. We have a pretty diverse audience; there are beginners and seasoned poets,” Carras said. Noted East Lansing poet Ruelaine Stokes is a regular, as well as Lansing Poet Laureate Dennis Hinrichsen.

Another group in the city is the Lansing Poetry Club, who, despite their name, meet and organize in East Lansing.

According to its website, their mission is, “to foster interest in the appreciation of poetry and encourage expression among members, as well as to further participation in creative writing.”

A scroll at the Haiga Exhibit in the Lookout Gallery, a collaborative project of various East Lansing Poets.

The Lansing Poetry Club meets in the Dublin Square Irish Pub & Restaurant for readings on a theme, costume contests, and musical poetry.

Stokes, a retired professor at MSU and member of the Lansing Poetry Club, believes that a solid foundation in poetry enriches communities.

“What you see at the Lansing Poetry Club, is you see students from the MSU slam team, and at our last event, the oldest person might have been 87, the youngest a senior in high school. You see people who don’t necessarily know one another begin to become friends,” Stokes said.

According to Stokes, the Lansing Poetry Club works with a number of other community organizations, such as the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, as well as being cosponsors of the Lansing poet laureate.

“It’s a wonderful creative format that’s helping to bring people from all walks of life together,” Stokes said.

Residents, however, do not have to be a member of an organized group to be part of the East Lansing poetry community. Norrlyn-Michael Allen said he prefers to write for himself, but stills feels very much welcomed into the poetry community.

“I was in a poetry cabaret (in East Lansing) last summer,” Allen said. He felt it was important there, “to talk about how divisive people are, the marginalization of minorities. It was interesting because it was expressions of minorities to a majority Caucasian crowd.”

Allen said it was a positive experience, and that self-expression through poetry is a means of building empathy and strengthening communities.

On poetry groups like The Poetry Room and The Lansing Poetry Club, Allen said, “these groups have definitely impacted people emotionally and psychologically, they do create a lot of inclusivity for a lot of people looking to express their voices.”

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