I'm pleased to welcome Cal Freeman to Michigander Monday.
Debbie: Cal, please tell us a little about yourself.
Cal: I grew up in a neighborhood in West Detroit called “Warrendale.” I now live in Dearborn, just a few miles from where I grew up. This area is vital to my writing because of the extensive local labor history involving the Ford empire and the UAW. My grandmother’s first cousin, Jim Sullivan, was a labor organizer at the Rouge Plant and one of the central figures in the 1941 strike; he was also one of Walter Reuther’s bodyguards for a few years during the late 30s and early 40s. Stories my grandmother told me about him were the impetus for my interest in local history.
My dad is an English professor at University of Detroit-Mercy, and my mother is a retired nurse. My mother’s uncanny ability to memorize and recite poems coupled with the fact that both my parents were big readers has a lot to do with why I write. I have vivid childhood memories of my mother standing on our big green front porch in Warrendale reciting poems by Poe, Eugene Field, and Alfred Noyes into the night. I still have recurring dreams about that house (now torn down) and that neighborhood.
In addition to writing poetry, I play guitar and sing in a band called The Codgers. We play the Gaelic League Irish-American Club of Detroit in Corktown the first Saturday of every month.
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your books.
Cal: My first book, Brother of Leaving, was published by Marick Press. My second book, Fight Songs, was just published by Eyewear Publishing in London. I’ve been fortunate to work with great editors in Mariela Griffor and Todd Swift, both brilliant poets and publishers as well. Fight Songs pays tribute to places in Southeast, Michigan I love: River Rouge, Dearborn, South Dearborn Heights (especially the riparian section of District 7 on the banks of the Ecorse Creek). The other sections deal with ecology and social justice.
Debbie: Other book projects on the horizon?
Cal: I’ve just completed a draft of a novella called, “An Easy Friend,” and I’m also working over the poem sequence for a new collection. The novella deals with the current opioid epidemic and is set in Downriver, MI. The newer poems sprang up out of my participation in the British poet Aaron Kent’s “Poetic Interviews” project, so many of the titles function as answers to questions other poets and artists, as well as personal friends, have posed that I find engaging and/or baffling. Some of the poem titles include: “The Answer to your Question Is, ‘Yes, but Not as Some Unremitting Paradise,’” “The Answer to Your Question Is, ‘Wired, like the Taxidermy Wing,” and “The Answer to Your Question Is, ‘Like Insects, We Seek Out Cool Interiors.’” The first poem in the sequence is a prose poem listing all the questions I’m working off of later in the sequence.
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Cal: I’ve got a poetry and music event at the Gaelic League Irish-American Club of Detroit on December 28th with some excellent poets in Kelly Fordon and Diane DeCillis, as well as phenomenal Detroit songwriters Ryan Dillaha and Scott Fab. I’ve also got a reading at the Bowery Club in New York City on January 14th.
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore and/or favorite Michigan library?
Cal: Many, but if pressed to pick just one I’d have to go with Pages in Rosedale Park, Detroit. My favorite library is Kresge Library at Oakland University.
Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?
Cal: Heather Lane Park in South Dearborn Heights; I walk there almost every day to check on the creek. I also love Port Austin, MI.
Debbie: Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Cal: The last day of every month I go to Lake Erie Metropark with my wife. She takes pictures of Gibraltar Bay and I collect images for a poem. I also look forward to playing and attending the Motor City Irish Fest every June.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Cal: There are a few songwriters from the Detroit area who I think of as criminally underrated. Don “Doop” Duprie, a fire fighter and artist from the industrial town of River Rouge, MI, check his music out. Also from River Rouge, Alison Lewis is a phenomenal songwriter. Ryan Dillaha is a brilliant songwriter, also a Downriver guy. The SEIU labor activist/button accordion player/songwriter Steve Cousins. Steve was one of the early architects of the fight for 15 movement. Terry Blackhawk, Alise Alousi, Peter Markus and all the good folks at Inside Out Literary Arts Detroit. Poets Michael Lauchlan and francine j. harris. So many artists and musicians I could really go on for a long time.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Cal: That there’s a lot of natural beauty here and many resources, namely freshwater, that are vital to protect.
Debbie: Last question. Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?
Cal: Definitely a Michigander.
Debbie: Cal, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!