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Art X Artist Profile: Chris Tysh

The Art X events in Midtown start today. Art X is a showcase for local writers, performers and visual artists who are Kresge Foundation fellows to share their talents with the community. Today, WDET’s Rob St. Mary introduces us to a native of France who found her artistic voice in America and has continued to work over the past three decades to help others in Detroit to develop theirs as well.

(click the audio link above to hear the story)

It’s March 2005. The scene, the Bowery Poetry Club and Café in New York City. Detroit’s Chris Tysh is welcomed to the stage to read from what was her latest work, “Cleavage”.

"Please welcome Chris Tysh (applause)..."

"(Tysh reading poem)"

Tysh, a native of Paris, France came to Detroit in the mid 1970s with her husband, poet George Tysh.

“So it was only when I came to the States with him that I realized that poetry was something the live, young people could do that wasn’t necessary just on the page and wasn’t reserved for a old tradition of intellectuals.”

But once she started putting her hand to the craft, Tysh says she resisted the title of poet.

“It just seems slightly prentious to me. I thought… it’s like saying I’m divine and giving yourself this kind of godly title. I thought everybody is special so I didn’t think you could say you where a poet… but, I’m finally claiming that. So, it took me a long time.”

Since the late 1970s, Tysh has published seven books of poetry and several plays. Cary Loren is the owner of Bookbeat in Oak Park.

“Chris is a very complex poet and she’s not a real breezy, easy to get into kind of writer but I think she is very intense and sometimes, very funny poet.”

Loren says Tysh’s writing comes out of her cultural heritage and influences found in both in Europe and America.

“The sort of dark symbolists of French letters kind of flow through her in one way and then she has this other half of her that’s kind of in the Midwest and in the United States and kind of straight forward street sense too about her.”

Tysh says she’s always been interested in ideas such as literary deconstruction, feminist criticism, psychoanalysis and other philosophical concepts.

“I like kind of this combination of discourse and poetry. Like why couldn’t poetry also be a critical lyric?”

Within Detroit’s writing community, Tysh also works as an educator. Along with her husband, the pair presented the “Lines” program at the Detroit Institute of Arts in the 1980s. “Lines” brought respected authors from around the world to Detroit to talk about their craft and take part in writing workshops. Since 1989, Tysh has been teaching creative writing at Wayne State University.

“She’s a secret gem in this city… as a professor.”

That’s fellow teacher and writer Glen Mannisto. He’s known Tysh since she moved to Detroit in the mid-1970s. They have also collaborated on various literary and teaching projects.

“There’s an explosive quality about her syntax… real clearly… when you hear her writing… she’s always going for the throat. I always think that she’s after… language almost explodes into unmeaning but it’s always right on the edge… always looking for the edge of sort of linguistic conscientiousness – if I can use a big fancy word like that.”

Tysh’s latest work “Night Scales: A Fable for Klara K” is a poetic play written out of her mother’s experiences as a Jewish survivor the Holocaust. Cary Loren of Bookbeat calls the 2010 Wayne State University production of “Night Scales” one of the best short plays he’s even seen.

“It’s one of these stories that’s very unique and almost… it’s a tragedy… but it’s one that I think she’s very courageous to put together and approach… she should be honored just for that.”

Last year the Kresge Foundation selected Tysh as a literary arts fellow. Loren was on the panel which made the selection.

“It was a blind selection… so, I didn’t know who wrote what… but you can tell when you read something whether it has weight and rings true… so, it was really stand out.”

Tysh says becoming a Kresge fellow validates, in a way, the work she has been doing for more than three decades. She says it also allows for new collaborations between the honorees.

This week during the Art X events Tysh will be reading from one of what she calls a “trans-creation” – a cross between a translation and new vision based on a novel by another writer. The new poem is based on Samuel Beckett’s “Molloy” – an existentialist contemplation about a man dealing with personal and physical loss.

“Molloy is a very dark novel where nothing happens and a man… who is sort of handicapped… who really has nothing… is trying to reach his mother. Beckett is sort of exploring the notion of being, of subjectivity which is not predicated on having things. Like he doesn’t have anything. Like he had a bicycle but it falls apart. He had two legs but one because stiff. So, there’s always a series of depredations and loses and ruins. So, what is a human being who doesn’t have?”

As for the future, Tysh says new books are in the pipeline… as she continues to explore new ideas and new modes of expression.

“(Tysh reading) Thank You… (claps)”

I’m Rob St. Mary – WDET News.