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An Ode to a (Detroit) Poet…the Unforgettable David Blair

We stood in awe of him – that mischievious voice, that joyful expression, that engulfing presence. David Blair was a poet, a writing talent so magical it only touches a few people.

Matt Gaidica

Mr. Blair passed away July 23, leaving behind a city deeply cut by his words and actions. He affected so many it is hard to contain such a life in a single blog post. One must sing his praises as he sung his work, his poetry, his magic.

This has been such a big week for Detroit. The Somerset Collection opened its CityLoft project. The “Live Downtown” program was launched. And Whole Foods announced it is indeed building a national chain grocery store in the city. It was like a series of strange moments, unexpected miracles, answers to long-held prayers. I’d guess Mr. Blair would have been proud of his adopted city.

That is why his passing is so affecting. Here, some might say, are some of Detroit’s most exciting moment of late. That long-held cliché – about Detroit not having a place to buy food because no chains were within the city limits – was broken. Anyone who loves words likes to see clichés challenged if not completely obliterated. Again, I’m guessing he would have been good with that, and good with what changes were happening to the place he chose as home.

I will admit: I did not know the man well. But I had the honor of writing about him, talking to him on the phone and occasionally exchanging an email. I loved to watch him perform, having seen him most recently in May at the InsideOut youth talent show, “Get Versed.” There, he was like a winsome puppy, engaging the audience as the master of ceremonies.

He brought that house down – stealing the show somewhat – with his rendition of an Emily Dickinson poem. Terry Blackhawk, head of that amazing InsideOut school program, said it best in her well-worded farewell to Mr. Blair via email:

It was my personal good fortune to work closely with Blair, commissioning him to create a song cycle as part of InsideOut’s 2010-2011 “Big Read” project bringing the work of Emily Dickinson, who is near and dear to my heart, to Detroit. Blair had not previously read much Dickinson, but his eagerness and curiosity and enthusiasm helped me see her again, and anew, through his eyes. We had a lot of fine conversations about her life and work, and I especially loved how he identified with her work, finding in it the voice of “an authentic self.” Like Emily, Blair saw through phoniness and facades.   From his resounding gospel rendition of ” Tie the strings to my Life, my Lord ” to the delicacy of ” I haven’t told my garden yet ” – Blair’s songs inhabited Dickinson for us all.

I also had a chance to check in with my other favorite local poet, the wonderful M.L. Liebler. He described Mr. Blair as a good friend, and his sadness was palatable. He wrote:

“Blair was an enormous national and international literary and music talent that Detroit was fortunate to claim as one of our own. I called on Blair often to read, perform and play for my various events at Wayne State, Metro Detroit Writers, Detroit Live and many others. I even had him replace me on various literary programs in Russia last September, and he won the hearts and minds of the Russian audiences everywhere he went. He was a good human who cared for everyone and served all. He was a major poet, and he will be long remembered by us all.”

Dave Lewinski

Yes, poetry is something that sparks the memory. It elicits thoughts, smells, sights, ideas. I cannot write a lick of poetry – and that is another reason Mr. Blair grabbed at my throat every time I heard one of his works about Detroit, life or what have you. He was the real stuff. And we’re all feeling the loss. Don’t believe me? Watch this, and I defy you to disagree.

“I didn’t know Blair for very long. Or really, very well. But in the short time I knew Blair, he made me see people of art — and people of Detroit — in an entirely new light. He made city a better place to live. And those in his life better people,” said Erik Proulx, Director/Producer of Lemonade: Detroit — a film that will feature one of Mr. Blair’s last performances.

If you wish to honor the memory of David Blair, join his fans, friends and family from 1-3:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31, as part of a Detroit-based service.

1pm: Please gather on the corner of Cass and MLK/Mack. We will march down Cass to the Unitarian Universalist Church (UU) at 4605 Cass on the corner of Forest. Percussion instruments are welcome to join in this march.
2pm: Life Celebration at the UU church
3pm: We will 2nd Line March back out into the street and let Detroit hear us celebrate.
3:30pm: Community Potluck at Memorial Hall at the UU. Please bring a dish.

For more information, click here.

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One comment on “An Ode to a (Detroit) Poet…the Unforgettable David Blair

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