Local poet, Cal Freeman, brings a rustic flair to social advocacy
Established local poet and critic Cal Freeman is bringing his new work, “Fight Songs,” to Literati Bookstore. Freeman uses rustic imagery to convey themes of social advocacy as he simultaneously, lyrically describes the struggle of the working class in Southeast Michigan.
“Fight Songs” is a collection of poems that deals with themes of social and ecological justice and politics. From a young age, Freeman was interested in the ecology of Southeast Michigan, which is where he grew up. His poems explore the geography of Southeast Michigan in the context of the social struggles of the working class. Although Freeman was not part of a working class family, he lived around working class families his entire life. He offers an insider’s view of the struggle that many working class families meet, connecting them to the ecological struggles that exist on the Michigan terrain.
“I am just telling stories of people and places I know,” said Freeman in an interview with the Daily. He sees social justice and environmental justice going hand-in-hand. At face value, many of Freeman’s poems may seem like an ode to the natural landscape of Michigan. If one reads between the lines, however, powerful statements of social injustice are being made.
Freeman, who reviews the work of other poets for the radio show “Stateside,” on Michigan Public Radio, is highly influenced by other local poets. Through constant exposure to the poetic experiments being conducted by other local poets Freeman is inspired to take risks and shake conventions. Additionally, his poetry is highly influenced by confessional poets such as Anne Sexton. The poems in “Fight Songs” resemble journal entries, yet these personal anecdotes have clout in the broader Michigan community.
“I try to go more for experience, something the reader can get invested in,” Freeman said. He invites us to be invested in his own mind, articulating his own perception on the challenges of the working class and the current environmental and political states of Southeast Michigan.
The book contains elegies and odes to the deceased members of the Southeast Michigan community, whether he knew them personally or not. Freeman is most proud of his poem, “Dearborn,” in which he exposes the uncut history of his home state and vilifies the traditional heroes of his neighborhood, most notably Henry Ford. The poem is the elegy to a young man named Kevin Matthews, a man with schizophrenia who was murdered by an off-duty police officer. Freeman, in his typical fashion, presents natural images that evoke the rugged Michigan terrain, exposing the dark past of his hometown’s hero, Henry Ford, and exploring the murder of the young Matthews. This narrative brings the reader into the deep history of Dearborn, as well as its natural landscape.
Freeman’s poetry speaks to local Michiganders, but he hopes hopes that it speaks to a larger audience as well. Freeman said he wants his work to “complicate (Michigan) in people’s minds.” There are many who have not experienced the social injustices that plague the working class or the raw nature scenes of Michigan. He hopes that Michigan is now thought of as more than just a state that produces cars and Motown, but as a place of complexity. Freeman is excited to share his work with Ann Arbor, bringing awareness to social issues that have been ignored for a long time in the Michigan community and creating a space of vulnerability and confession.