Mariners Inn's poets find a brotherhood, artistic expression through words
rian Mullins can describe cooking meth like arranging the words of a haiku.
He takes you back to the very moment, holding the hollow tube like a piece of glass art in his hand – a process perhaps akin to formulating a poem, line by line – and watching the newly birthed meth trickle down like snow.
Today, he’d rather be addicted to poetry; it beats heroin. If you ask him, he’ll tell you he didn’t find poetry – poetry was an innate gift grafted to his DNA, as much a part of him as his hand.
“I’m not doing it for the money and the fame. I’m doing it ‘for the music,’” Mullins says. “I just want to write because it makes me feel better. I just want to write because it helps me explain who I am and let out my feelings in a positive way instead of drugs.”
The 29-year-old can quote the works of John Milton, Dante and even his own poetry – yet he has to face each day as a unit, a test of mind and body. He’s one of the writers featured in a collection of poetry called The Straits, which will be unveiled during Mariners Inn’s River Rhythm event on Nov. 11. The title harkens back to the idea that Detroit used to be called “the city of the straits,” explains Joel Fluent Greene, director of the poetry program at Mariners Inn. A strait can also be described as a narrow passage between two bodies of water.
“Almost like trying to get from one point to the other,” Greene says. “You got to get through this suffocating passage of life before you get to a breakthrough. It’s narrow on both sides, but you’re going to make it through.”
Every Wednesday, a group of men get together to share poetry, to share pain and to reveal something of themselves – because it’s disingenuous to be enigmatic. Rather, one must be revelatory to allow that artistic breakthrough to occur.
Greene, a Detroit poet who emerged in the ’90s, is well-known in the city for his various workshops and performances. Working with these men is an experience that used to surprise him, he says. Now he simply stands in awe of the raw talent.
“A lot of these guys are better writers than me,” Greene says. “Nothing gets sad in here. It’s uplifting. No matter what’s going on in my life or their life, we talk about our weeks, we let it out on paper. We close the door and get raw and emotional – it’s a beautiful experience.”
People come through the program with varying degrees of success. Some, like Matthew Rybak, 27, fail and come back again, but it’s usually with the hope that he’ll finally end the cycle.
“I’m one of the repeat offenders,” Rybak says. “Treatment has been a rocky road. Addiction has been a long, daunting road. Poetry has helped throughout the whole thing.”
Rybak, who came up with the title The Straits, is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and Jack Kerouac. In a recent discussion with his counselor, he landed on a profound truth.
“The future equates to anxiety; the past equates to sadness; and in the moment, you can find happiness,” Rybak says. “I think poetry is the application of being here (in the moment).”
Sedley Titus, 26, now an employee with Chrysler, recalls being homeless and can reflect on how poetry helped him to transition to something better. His love of poetry came through rap music and evolved beyond to include poetry books.
“I’ve been here now for seven months. It’s been a beautiful thing,” Titus says. “I like waking up coming to this library, getting inspiration from books. I can do (write) two pages in five minutes and it’ll be dope. It makes me want to do better as a person.”
With a master’s degree in public policy, 36-year-old Collier LeBlanc (his pen name) might seem to stand out from the others, but he, too, has a story of struggle. He’s gone from well-paying jobs to being penniless.
“When it comes to addicts, we don’t have the option of lying to ourselves like most people do,” LeBlanc says. “Great art comes from honesty. What’s beautiful about this program (is) I’ve never been in a situation where it’s a mini collective in a rehab. I’ve heard some of the greatest poems I’ve ever heard while I was here at Mariners.”
Mariners Inn is one example of an organization in Detroit that uses art therapy as an integral part of its program. Detroit Recovery Project even has an annual karaoke night, often featuring poets.
CEO and founder Andre Johnson is in long-term recovery from alcohol. He hasn’t used it for 29 years. He writes poetry to express his experiences.
“At the end of the day, we learn from our own experiences and from people’s experiences,” Johnson says. “That’s the beauty of poetry – it’s an honest dialogue about someone’s experiences. When we share it, we share it in an environment that’s nonjudgmental. We don’t care what you’ve done; we just care about what you do – what are you going to do today?”
Dr. Holly Feen, Wayne State University art therapy program associate professor and coordinator, believes poetry can be very appealing for someone in long-term recovery.
“Whether they’re doodling on a piece of paper, or they’re manipulating clay (or) writing (words) down on a piece paper, that kinesthetic movement helps mobilize pain from inside and brings it out,” Feen says. “I think the expression of feelings in a manageable way is really key. Also, they can visualize triggers or how they want their lives to be. It can also be a really nice hobby.”
The Straits Book Fundraiser
An evening of poetry and live music
Nov. 8 • Donations welcome
Jazz Café, 350 Madison Ave., Detroit
River Rhythm Gala
6-11 p.m. Nov. 11 • $150 (pre-register)
Sound Board, MotorCity Casino, 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit