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Posted on Wed, Nov 3, 2010 : 12:50 p.m.

Poetry Night in Ann Arbor will electrify the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater this Thursday

By Scott Beal

This Thursday, Poetry Night in Ann Arbor comes to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. This annual event brings nationally recognized poets together with up-and-coming youth poets in one dynamic literary showcase. This year's event features Martín Espada, one of the fiercest and most significant poets in the country.

As a poet and a mentor of young writers, I spend a lot of time trying to get people to go to literary readings. Sometimes I'll invite 50 or 100 friends and colleagues to a reading I'm particularly excited about, and maybe two or three will show up. Well, people are busy. And I can understand a certain reticence. I've been to enough readings where some highly renowned litterateur declaims monotonously for 50 minutes, and the only memorable images come from the daydreams they've lulled me into.

Poetry Night in Ann Arbor is a different beast.

For one thing, the Neutral Zone only invites poets to perform who are gripping entertainers as well as master wordsmiths. In addition to Espada, this year's bill includes rising poetry stars Samantha Thornhill (also a highly regarded children's author) and Ann Arbor native Angel Nafis, both of whom can be electrifying on stage.

Poetry Night's mix of youth and adult poets keeps the energy fresh and lively throughout the show. The youth poets are no sidebar here -- they hold their own. Those few people I convince to come to Poetry Night each year are always just as engaged and impressed by the high school poets as they are by the superstars.

Much of the value of Poetry Night to Ann Arbor's literary culture is its engagement with the youth literary community. Besides showcasing great youth writers on stage, the event also draws in a large audience of literary-minded students, many of whom have also enjoyed classroom visits from the featured poets on the day of the show. In addition, the Neutral Zone's own youth-run publishing company, Red Beard Press, will sell copies of an exclusive edition of Martín Espada's and Samantha Thornhill's poems, entitled Watch Me Swing.

In its 11 years, Poetry Night in Ann Arbor has grown into one of the premier literary events in Southeast Michigan. On a family-friendly scale, I'd recommend it for middle-schoolers and up, with the understanding that there will likely be some adult language and content. If you've never seen the show before, you couldn't get a better introduction than this year's line-up. And if you have seen the show before, then you already know you don't want to miss this Thursday.

Poetry Night in Ann Arbor takes place Thursday, Nov. 4 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater in the Michigan League (911 North University Ave., Ann Arbor). Tickets: $5 for students in advance, $7 at the door; $10 general public in advance, $12 at the door. Find more information here.

There is also a special VIP reception prior to the show at Mercy's at the Bell Tower (300 S. Thayer). The reception begins at 5:30 and includes refreshments, a cash bar and special appearances by the featured poets. A $25 VIP pass includes admission to both the reception and the show. RSVP to Lori Roddy at

Scott Beal teaches workshops for the Neutral Zone, Dzanc Books and 826michigan.