Neutral Zone, an Ann Arbor teen center that promotes the arts, and Red Beard Press, a teen-driven business within Neutral Zone, are hosting the 13th annual Ann Arbor Poetry Night Thursday in Rackham Auditorium.

Ann Arbor Poetry Night

Thursday at 7 p.m.
Rackham Auditorium
From $5

Each year, renowned poets join high school and University students to perform original compositions. National Book Award finalist and four-time National Poetry Slam Champion Patricia Smith and New York based up-and-comer Shira Erlichman are scheduled to perform.

Jeff Kass, the founder of the yearly event and an employee at Neutral Zone, said he was excited that the event was able to acquire such high-profile talent for the uniquely Ann Arbor event.

“(Erlichman) is very bold and takes on a lot of issues regarding gender identity and crimes against women,” Kass said. “She’s really edgy, but also funny and charming at the same time.”

Kass said Smith is perhaps one of the most historically important poets today.

“(Smith) is at the cutting-edge of poetry today around the country,” he said. “In terms of the work that she’s done, (it) has really pushed the boundaries of what a poem can be.”

This year will mark the first time that both visiting poets will be female, which Kass believes will make a powerful statement. Using an event that occurred in June — in which State Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) was barred from speaking on the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives after using the word “vagina” in remarks — to illustrate his point, Kass said women’s voices are more vital, and repressed, than ever.

“This year I think women’s voices have been kind of threatened politically,” Kass said. “It’s an ideal time to have some powerful female voices.”

Kass said the event is a great way to introduce audience members to new poets and artists, which he believes is one of the best outcomes of the night.

“Seeing people who may not have been exposed to this kind of poetry absolutely fall in love with these artists … it’s just very powerful,” Kass said. “I think that’s something that’s missing from schools.”

“To really see a live person talking about contemporary life is, I think, incredibly welcoming to young people,” he continued.

Along with the guest poets, four to five University students and about 15 local high school students have the opportunity to take the stage to speak about what’s on their minds.

“(Attendees) will be stunned by how strong the high school writers are,” Kass said. “It’ll make the University students want to go back to the lab and step up their game.”

Kass said encouraging poets who may not believe in themselves to take the stage and perform their works is one of the primary reasons he continues to plan the event year after year.

“Watching that poet succeed and watching that person’s face light up when the audience responds to their poem, that’s why I want to keep doing it every year,” Kass said.

LSA junior Haley Patail said Poetry Night is one of her favorite events of the year, and she’s particularly excited to hear Smith speak this year.

“I’ve lived here for a while and have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with the writers in town,” Patail said. “It’s a great community of people to just be in a room with, let alone hear their writing.”

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