The Facts: Scottish writer Jenni Fagan is coming to Michigan.
The Artifacts: Petoskey stones, Stormy Kromer hats, fireflies, photos of Ellis Island, Scottish shortbread, screen porch, Steve Amick, Jack Driscoll, Susan Ramsey, Christopher Magson, a poem by Bob Hicok.
Scottish Outrider Jenni Fagan is in New York meeting artists, writers, and other citizens of the world as she visits Ellis Island, Harlem, Broadway, Poukeepsie, and Woodstock, and I’m in Michigan, getting ready to meet her in Detroit on Saturday.
Pasted in is one of her photos from Ellis Island. I just grabbed this one off Twitter, and she’s posting lots more. She is posting blogs at The Dead Queen of Bohemia site, that being the title of her forthcoming poetry book.
https://thedeadqueenofbohemia.wordpress.com/ You can follow her @Jenni_Fagan
Myself, I’m here in Michigan briefly, enjoying my home place and my husband for a few days, while trying to un-muck my house enough to entertain a guest without bringing shame to my people. Being away from home does remind a person who she is and where she belongs for the long haul. In Gloria Steinem’s new memoir, it turned out she belonged on the road, as a traveler, and that is a kind of place as well.
Steve Amick visited us from Ann Arbor last night, and he was the one who put it into words best, how nobody comes to Michigan by accident—we are a peninsula, and you don’t get to anywhere else by coming here. You just go out on a limb, and here you are. Susan Ramsey was also with us on the screen porch, and those two Michigan minds are voluminous. Steve talked about leaving Michigan, because his extended family will probably be selling a family cabin—I hope he stays.
For a lot of us Michiganders, The West Coast of America seems like a fabulous foreign land, and that’s true for me even though I’ve lived in California and worked in Oregon. When I visit this time, I want to bring a little bit of my own state along, so I’ll be wearing my Stormy Kromer waterproof hat when I trek through the Redwoods. I have also brought along a bunch of Petoskey stones to give away, along with a few other souvenirs.
Recently I read an article by a Michigander who remarked about how folks from elsewhere are sometimes confused by the gift of a Petoskey stone (“You’re giving me a rock?”), but we love these little rocks profoundly, and we continue to give them, like we give love and hospitality with humility and a sense of proportion, however well they are received.
(about the stones: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petoskey_stone)
Jenni said she will be bringing books and shortbread from Scotland for gifts.
Last night, fiction writer Jack Driscoll and I talked about our writing and writing in general in front of an audience at the Kalamazoo Public Library, and while we both agreed that characters are in a profound way connected to their places (I said that landscape reflects character in my fiction, and vice versa), he said that person and place used to be the same thing; consider, he said how people were once used to be named for the place they came from: Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Leonardo da Vinci, William of Orange, Eleanore of Aquitaine (I didn’t remember the exact ones he said, so Susan Ramsey suggested these), and of course Jesus of Nazareth. In a real-life world that is increasingly globalized this is not true for everyone, but I think it holds true for me, Bonnie of Michigan, or possibly even Bonnie of Comstock.
Jenni Fagan of Scotland will be in Michigan for about 21 hours. This is more than most visitors will have of Michigan, and so many more of our middle (fly-over) states. We’ll get a several-hour driving tour of Detroit by writer Lolita Hernandez, and then drive back to Kalamazoo for some donkey, some Susanna, and river and a modest grilled dinner on the screen porch. It’s possible that we’ll also get some of my visiting cousins from Boston—fingers crossed. I know she may not love Michigan, but I want her to see that it is a place important to the people in it and with some interesting characteristics and conversations, of the kind that often take place on my (and Christopher’s) screen porch.
One thing I’ll miss showing Jenni is fireflies. There are so many of them here, or will be in a few weeks, but there are no fireflies in California. I’ll finish up by inserting the best poem about Michigan ever written, or the best one written by Bob Hicok, which appeared in the New Yorker in 2008
A PRIMER By Bob Hicok
I remember Michigan fondly as the place I go
to be in Michigan. The right hand of America
waving from maps or the left
pressing into clay a mold to take home
from kindergarten to Mother. I lived in Michigan
forty-three years. The state bird
is a chained factory gate. The state flower
is Lake Superior, which sounds egotistical
though it is merely cold and deep as truth.
A Midwesterner can use the word “truth,”
can sincerely use the word “sincere.”
In truth the Midwest is not mid or west.
When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio.
There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life
goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam,
which we’re not getting along with
on account of the Towers as I pass.
Then Ohio goes corn corn corn
billboard, goodbye, Islam. You never forget
how to be from Michigan when you’re from Michigan.
It’s like riding a bike of ice and fly fishing.
The Upper Peninsula is a spare state
in case Michigan goes flat. I live now
in Virginia, which has no backup plan
but is named the same as my mother,
I live in my mother again, which is creepy
but so is what the skin under my chin is doing,
suddenly there’s a pouch like marsupials
are needed. The state joy is spring.
“Osiris, we beseech thee, rise and give us baseball”
is how we might sound were we Egyptian in April,
when February hasn’t ended. February
is thirteen months long in Michigan.
We are a people who by February
want to kill the sky for being so gray
and angry at us. “What did we do?”
is the state motto. There’s a day in May
when we’re all tumblers, gymnastics
is everywhere, and daffodils are asked
by young men to be their wives. When a man elopes
with a daffodil, you know where he’s from.
In this way I have given you a primer.
Let us all be from somewhere.
Let us tell each other everything we can.
(Thank you, Susan, for reminding me of this poem)
(for general information about the Outriders project, check out this website
https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/outriders) Tweets use #edbookfest #outriders