Blog: John D. Lamb

The premise behind art is to say something in a way it hasn't been said (or sung) before. Singer and songwriter John D. Lamb, director of Springfed Arts, writes about running Metro Detroit's literary workshop venue and the merits of a kick in the pants.

Writers in Rogue Locations

As director of Springfed Arts, one of my tasks is to administer writing classes.  These educational opportunities are presented in a series of six-week courses offered throughout the year at locations in Ann Arbor, Birmingham, Clarkston, Dearborn, Detroit, Farmington Hills, Hamtramck and Royal Oak.  Anyone can register for a class specializing in fiction, beginning and advanced poetry, or memoir.  To my knowledge, in the Detroit area, these are the only regularly-meeting workshops of this nature outside of college writing classes.

To enter the advanced poetry workshop we ask a new student to send a few samples of their work just to make sure they won't feel intimidated among the other participants.  Some of our finest poets and writers have been taking these classes for years.  They don't receive a college credit.  They do become a member of a community of supportive writers.  Many of our writers have published poetry book collections and chapbooks.

We limit the class sizes to about ten writers, sometimes less.  Our instructors want to insure that there is ample time in each class to workshop everyone's work in progress.  Most of our instructors have a Master of Fine Arts or are working on completing their MFA.  Their job is to impart knowledge and to facilitate the kind of discourse that will inspire good writing and encourage refined sensibilities.  

As I stated, these classes are not college sanctioned.  They may even be rogue.  We don't own, rent or lease our own facilities. We do rent meeting rooms at libraries, art centers and  public school media rooms after hours.  In some cases, our classes are held rent-free at cafes gracious enough to allow us.  In one case, we are using the meeting room of a Big Boy Restaurant, grateful for the small amount of regular business that comes from class attendees who are hungry for knowledge and food.

Springfed Arts has long offered free-to-the-public reading events at various Metro Detroit locations.  Over the years, we have featured poets, authors, and songwriters at the Scarab Club, the Detroit Opera House Cafe, the Arts League-Virgil H. Carr Center and at the Music Hall Jazz Cafe.  We still do some events at those downtown Detroit locations,but since late 2010 I've been focusing our efforts on The Lido Gallery Poetry & Music Series, a monthly showcase held in Birmingham.  The Lido Gallery & Gifts offers expert custom framing, fine art exhibits, original prints and posters, imaginative gifts and more.  The owner, Diane DeCillis, is a Mona Lisa scholar, a poet and a writer, a long-time member of Springfed Arts, who has been taking our poetry classes and substitute teaches for Springfed Arts.  At our monthly gatherings she offers up a table of specialty teas, cakes, cookies and food.  

These free reading series are faithfully attended by many of our members and by the friends and family of our featured writers.  When I plan these events, I do it as if I'm booking a variety show.  Usually, I will invite one songwriter besides myself and a mix of writers who will read either poetry or prose.  I begin the night by strapping on my guitar and singing a song.  This gets folks to subside their conversations and find a seat.  Then I make a few announcements regarding our various Springfed activities and maybe sing another song, something chosen especially for the featured guests or say, the occasion of Dylan's or Springsteen's birthday.  Then I introduce another songwriter who does a couple songs.  After that, I introduce several poets and writers who read their work from our custom-made podium.  When all of our guests have read, I get up and make everyone sing along on the chorus of some old pop song.  I know, it sounds a little quaint or corny, but folks are warming up to it.  Members tell me that they used to have a hard time dragging their husbands out to poetry readings, but now that we feature songwriters they look forward to attending more often.

Who are the readers at these Springfed Arts events?  They are poets, writers and songwriters with some fame and acclaim.  You might have heard of some of them.  Sometimes we get a famous writer on a book tour.  We occasionally feature our own Springfed writing instructors.  
Increasingly, though, I am asking these instructors, "Who is writing good stuff in your class?" And then I invite someone to do a public reading for the first time in their life.  And they are thrilled and nervous.  They read their stuff for all of us and we enjoy listening to their thoughts and the way they put things.