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Stateside Podcast: Nandi Comer named Michigan Poet Laureate

Design by Rachel Ishikawa
Photo by Julianne Lindsey, Courtesy of Nandi Comer
Michigan Poet Laureate, Nandi Comer.

Michigan's first poet laureate was appointed in 1952 — the British-born Edgar A. Guest, who later made Detroit his home. Then, decades passed without another Michigan poet in the role, until now. Detroit-born and based Nandi Comer is Michigan's newest poet laureate. She comes to the role with a deep knowledge of Michigan's long-standing poetry culture, and a fresh vision for engaging new readers and writers.

To Comer this isn't just a personal accomplishment; it's also a recognition of the artistry coming out of the state. She said the appointment is an opportunity to introduce larger communities across the state to Michigan's world of poetry.

"It's not just about people who are already coming to the poetry section of the book store, but it's also about the future readers who will engage with writing, will engage with poetry and discover creative expression as a new outlet for them," said Comer.

Comer is the author of the poetry collections American Family: A Syndrome and Tapping Out. She's also helped curate the Detroit Metro Times' fiction issues, featuring writers and artists from across Metro Detroit. And after years of writing, teaching, and organizing in Detroit, Comer says she's been cultivating themes of community and identity in her recent work more than ever, especially in her new role as poet laureate.

"As a writer who occupies these multiple identities, not just Black woman, but Detroiter, Michigander, middle-aged, I think one of the things I've noticed is that Black female voices have been the ones that have been naming a lot of the barriers and troubles in our community. And they've been also at the root of trying to resolve them, as well," Comer said. "When I'm thinking about approaching my own writing, I'm not only naming things for myself, but I feel I really want to name things for the larger audience. And I hope that people see that in the work that I do around the state."

Part of Comer's two-year appointment as Michigan Poet Laureate includes visits to schools and libraries. She'll also research and implement poetry programming for young writers statewide — something she's done for years in her work in Detroit.

"I think one of the ways in which we oftentimes approach teaching poetry is that there's always, like, this one person who has all of the knowledge, and that they're the one, sole teacher that can bestow upon the student poetry." But Comer plans to flip the script. "I want to turn it over to them and say, 'Well, here's a poem, here's a topic. How do you — with your brain and your imagination and your time and your generation — how do you want to express that?' I think that we've seen movements like that happen in the past that have always come out of younger writing generations."

Hear the full conversation with Nandi Comer on the Stateside Podcast. You can also catch her at Lucha Detroit's Cinco de Mayo celebration on May 5, at Midtown's Garden Theater where she'll be signing copies of her lucha libre-inspired poetry collection, Tapping Out.

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Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.
Ellie Katz joined the Stateside team as an intern in September 2022.