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In the Belt Magazine essay “Greetings from Detroit,” I discuss why, and to some degree how, I write about one of my favorite subjects. (Hint: I search for the particular in the particulars.)

Belt

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Appropriately, I think, given the book’s dual subject, I write about the great boxing trainer Emanuel Steward in Fighters & Writers in connection with another author’s work. In the essay “A First-Class Sport” (which takes its name from a comment made by Teddy Roosevelt), I consider how Steward and others used boxing as a way to help youngsters:

This desire to aid children’s development through boxing is common among both trainers and cops. In his memoir, Serenity, Ralph Wiley recalls his early days as a sportswriter on the boxing beat and visits he paid to the New Oakland Boxing Club, where he met a police officer representing the PAL who worked with young fighters. “Boxing breeds respect,” Jerry Blueford told Wiley. “I don’t care if any of these kids ever become pros, or even good amateurs for that matter. I’m trying to get them into something they can work at. Off the streets. If they leave here in a couple of years and rob a bank, at least they didn’t rob it while they were here.” In a section that harkens back to Roosevelt’s remark about tough neighborhoods, Wiley describes visiting Detroit’s Kronk Boxing Club, in “the bottom of the rundown bunker of a recreation center on an otherwise barren lot of the decayed inner city.” Wiley calls the place “a haven of sorts for the children of Detroit” and he cannot help being impressed by its principal, trainer-manager Emanuel Steward, because of “how Emanuel had overcome long odds, and helped his young men overcome long odds, just to be strong and functional.”

Wiley refers to the original Kronk location on McGraw, where Steward taught Tommy Hearns, Hilmer Kenty, Jimmy Paul, Duane Thomas, Dennis Andries, Steve McCrory, Milton McCrory, Michael Moorer, and so many others, not the later location on West Warren, which according to reports started being dismantled almost immediately after Steward’s death on October 25.

Detroit still needs the kinds of havens Steward provided.

 

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Mongrel Empire Press, publisher of Fighters & Writers, posted a couple videos of me reading from the book on its YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/mongrelempirepress. One shows me at the Detroit’s Scarab Club earlier this year; the other is from the 2011 Scissortail Creative Writing Festival in Ada, Oklahoma.

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Critical Moment, a publication billing itself as Detroit by Detroiters, chose to include an article of mine in the summer 2012 issue. The title put above my piece, “Success at the Downtown Boxing Gym,” pretty much sums it up. The CM website has more details about the issue, including the release party at the Cass Café.

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The Metro Times added to its Detroit Music Map a short item about the Graystone, a venue where I spent much time as a teenager at shows, including some mentioned in the piece (Black Flag, Corrosion of Conformity, Die Kreuzen, the Descendents, Seven Seconds) and others unnamed (Suicidal Tendencies, Butthole Surfers, Gang Green, the Offenders and many more). It brought to mind an old essay of mine, published by Slow Trains Literary Journal, in which I reflect on both that hall and my 1980s Detroit punk scene experiences. Ah, the memories.

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At the end of March, I read at the Scarab Club along with Anca Vlasopolos, Patricia Abbott, Caroline Maun and Olivia Ambrogio. M.L. Liebler served as master of ceremonies. Here I am reading excerpts from Fighters & Writers and Christmas Things.

P.S. I’ll be reading with Anca again on May 11 at Leopold’s Books in Detroit.

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Walking toward Solstice, a new collection of poems by Anca Vlasopolos, will be launched locally at the Scarab Club on March 31st. Joining her in reading at the historic arts venue next to the Detroit Institute of Art will be Particia Abbott, author of Monkey Justice and Other Stories, and Caroline Maun, author of The Sleeping. I will read bits from either Fighters & Writers or Christmas Things – or perhaps from both. Olivia Ambrogio, who supplied photos for Walking toward Solstice (which has the same publisher as my essay collection), will also attend what should be a lively literary afternoon.

 

Here are the crucial details.

 

What: Book launch and multiple-author reading

Where: The Scarab Club, 217 Farnsworth, Detroit, MI

When: Saturday, March 31, 2012, 2 to 4 pm

Why: For the love of literature

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Recently I learned that soon I will no longer be Detroit’s sole Mongrel Empire Press author. The Norman, Oklahoma-based publisher, which issued my essay collection Fighters & Writers in 2010, plans to issue Walking into Solstice, poems by Anca Vlasopolos, this year.

 

As it happens, Vlasopolos was teaching at Wayne State University during my graduate studies days there, though I didn’t know her then. But since we have a city, a university and a publisher in common, we’ve discussed the obviously appropriate idea of holding joint readings. Some of her poems posted at The Stone Hobo and Beasts in a Populous City, with their images of bruises from punches and 24-caliber fists, suggest we have some thematic commonalities as well.

 

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It takes determination to excel in boxing, and David Davis has it. He had it as a small ten-year-old who wanted to learn how to box in order to defend himself against bigger kids who picked on him. He persuaded his reluctant mother to let him start working out at the Downtown Boxing Gym in Detroit and competing in amateur boxing tournaments. He displayed it again three years later when, in early October, he became the 85-pound champion at the 2011 PAL Nationals in Toledo, Ohio.

David envisions more accomplishments for himself. In the short term this means more tournaments, finishing up at Nichols Middle School and then high school (at Cass Tech, he thinks). In the long term, this means turning professional and eventually becoming a promoter.

His grades are “good but could be better,” David says. His trainer, Khali, asks him and the other kids he works with to show him their report cards. If his grades weren’t good enough, David told me, Khali would make him “do more push ups” and work with the tutors at the Downtown Boxing Gym.

In addition to his schoolwork, David undertakes research projects of his own. While he admires current-day boxers like Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Manny Pacquiao and Victor Ortiz, David is also a student of boxing history. He looks up fighters on the internet in order to learn their moves. He likes Mike Tyson because he was “strong, competitive and always came forward” and admires Muhammad Ali’s quickness. He sees posters of Ali every day at the gym, and has one on the wall at home. (Regarding the much sought-after Mayweather-Pacquiao match up, he “would pick Floyd to win but would want Manny to win.”)

David admits that he doesn’t especially like to train but goes to the gym Monday through Friday because that’s “part of the sport.” What he does like is hard fights, he says. He also likes that in boxing he doesn’t have to depend on teammates and only has to depend on himself. But he’s quick to praise Khali, his “great coach,” because he “doesn’t want to take all the credit.” Khali not only teaches him and makes sure he exercises; he also arranges for him to travel to different states, picks him up and gets him to where he needs to go.

2011 PAL Nationals Champ David Davis acknowledges one of his boxing heroes

Every sport is dangerous, David concedes. Yet he’s never been hurt in a fight, he claims, though he has been hurt (but “not bad”) in sparring. He believes (as Ali did) that football is more dangerous than boxing. He much prefers boxing to mixed martial arts, which he thinks is far more harmful than boxing. “You can really get hurt in UFC,” he says. “Boxing will always thrive,” he confidently states. “It’s the past, present and future if you ask me.”

His mother, Sheba McKinney, can accept David’s involvement in the sport in the present, but isn’t sure she’ll want to watch him in the ring when he and his opponents are bigger. “You don’t have to box,” she tells him. “You could become a commentator.” If he set his mind to it, I bet he could.

Inside the Downtown Boxing Gym

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The last book review I wrote while residing in Oregon appears in the Sunday, June 12, 2011, edition of The Oregonian. Appropriately, the novel considered, Once upon a River, is set in Michigan, where I’ll be living for the foreseeable future. Author Bonnie Jo Campbell resides in Kalamazoo, where I attended college, but that’s not where I’ll be. I’m going back to where it all began for me: where I grew up, where I went to school (except for those undergraduate years), where I met my wife, where my parents and sister live. I’ll continue to remark on writing and related subjects here, but I’ve also started a separate site – Detroit48221 – to document my return to Detroit.

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