If any city needs some happiness, it’s Detroit.
Not the superficial kind, offering a bland sappiness that never quite satisfies. No, this city needs a deep, dramatic sense of happiness – something that moves the hips and the soul.
Maybe that is why the words and music of poet Rhonda Welsh always resonate. Her happiness can be heard in her performances, both live and recorded. Her face positively glows, especially when she talks about love, work and the city that she adores so much.
“My whole life is serendipitous,” Welsh told me recently over caffeinated drinks at Great Lakes Coffee. We were there to talk about her work with Josh Milan, CEO and Founder of Honeycomb Music, and the record that resulted from their partnership with the poetry collective Raw Honey.
The record they created, “Happy,” came out in late 2013. But I’ve been listening to it more and more as spring approaches, especially Welsh’s performance of “Fertile Mind,” set to a twangy, jazzy electric guitar and up-beat drums. (Download the song/poem combo here.)
So what is happiness? For her, Welsh said it always has been the simple things: The flush of new love. A library card. A great, passionate sermon at church. Performing in front of an audience. Writing in her journal.
“The arts have always just spoken to me,” said Welsh, who came into her literary own in recent years. That is when she finally felt confident enough in her talent and her message to put her poetry in front of both live people and a microphone.
“The problem was, I just didn’t think I was good enough at it,” Welsh admits. She took her communications skills and put them to work in another way – she does public-relations assignments for a variety of Detroit institutions. Most recently, she left the College for Creative Studies and just started her new gig as head of alumni relations for the Wayne State University College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts.
She self-produced her debut CD, “I Saw Myself.” In summer 2010, she launched her own press, Crimson Kairos. The first project was the release of her debut poetry collection, “Red Clay Legacy.” (That’s where we first met; I featured it on this other blog I wrote for at one point.) This effort was met with glowing reviews including a particularly moving one from one of her poetic inspirations, Nikki Giovanni.
Her writing centers around her city (one of my favorites is “My Only Home,” a poem about Detroit), faith, women, love. Especially dark love. Marriage and then a divorce will do that for you.
But she has found new love. She has let her “dark, fertile mind” get happy. And the result, to some degree, was the “Happy” project. She and fellow Detroit poet Carolyn “Diamond Dancer” Ferrari joined the Collective and brought their “Detroit flavor” to the New York-based project.
The chemistry was immediate, Milan said. He said “Happy” is Honeycomb Music LLC’s debut poetry release
“‘Happy’ originally began as a project with poets from the New York area. But after I started I just had to include these two poets from Detroit: Carolyn ‘Diamond Dancer’ Ferrari and Rhonda Welsh,” he said.
“Diamond Dancer is internationally known and is a long-time staple on the House music scene. Rhonda performs also but she is more of a literary poet who hosts events and does most of her performing in galleries and academic settings. I sensed that they would both add a special element to the project. And, I was right. When they met the other poets, the synergies were unreal. The poetry collective Raw Honey was born almost immediately,” Milan added.
The other members of Raw Honey are: Tantra Zawadi, Rescue Poetix, Debbie “Sanctuary” McRae, Brown Sugah, Sage Youngblood, BNanaz Sweets and Nicole “Essence” Jenkins-Watson.
To hear some of Welsh’s work, along with a performance by poet Andrea Daniel, check out “Feminenergy @ The Skyline Club,” which will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 24, at 2000 Town Center in Southfield. You’ll feel pretty happy if you do.