Poet Sean Thomas Dougherty brought the audience from laughter to tears Monday night during the first reading of this year’s Wellspring Literary Series at the Art Reach Center of Mid Michigan.
In front of about 100 Mount Pleasant residents and students, several could be seen dabbing their eyes during Dougherty’s emotional reading of a poem inspired by his loss of a loved one.
Dougherty, who began his writing career in his mid-twenties, used variation in his voice, differing tempos, personal commentary and even singing to transform his written words into almost tangible pieces of art that hung in the air even after the final word was uttered at 111 E. Broadway St.
“To me, poetry is a kind of music,” Dougherty said. “For me, it’s not as much a literary art as it is a singing art. Sometimes the words aren’t sung, but they’re sung because language has sound.”
The Wellspring Literary Series, facilitated by Robert Fanning, assistant professor of Creative Writing at Central Michigan University, has a history of incorporating music into every event. From music professors to local bands and performers, the series makes a point to emphasize the similarities that music and poetry share.
“(Language) has vowel sounds, low notes, high notes, assonance (and) alliteration,” Dougherty said. “So that musicality is embedded in poems.”
Now, in its fifth year, the Wellspring Series also featured student poet Hailee Sattavara, a current graduate student working toward a master degree in creative writing and a former Central Michigan Life editor, as well as local Mount Pleasant’s only Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy band, Kavazabava.
Sattavara, whose readings also explored the darker experiences and emotions of humanity, uses her experience as a psychology major as a major source of inspiration.
“It definitely helped me to be more introspective, and rather than just writing something, kind of understanding why I was writing something.” Sattavara said. “It kind of gave it another layer that I think really helped my poems.”
From interactions with others to walking down the street, the everyday occurrences of life provide great writing material for poets, Sattavara said.
Dougherty writes both what he calls “witness” poems that deal with everyday experiences, as well as more text-based pieces.
“(These) are more conceptual,” Dougherty said. “An idea about a couple of words, a sound of a word, maybe a phrase someone said in a movie or an idea when I see a filmmaker. And those are poems which are much more language-driven.”
Dougherty’s poetry has drawn national attention, and he continues to tour the country for appearances and readings. Dougherty travels next to Ann Arbor before finishing his Michigan tour at the “Poetry Saves Lives” festival, sponsored by Oakland Community College.
The next reading in the Wellspring Series will be held 7 p.m. on Nov. 4 at the Art Reach Center.
It will feature poet and Writer in Residence at Western Michigan University Diane Seuss, with catering provided by Max and Emily’s Eatery, 125 E. Broadway St.