Poetry has always been part of Detroit native, now local artist Will “The Poet” Langford’s life.
“When I was very young, my family especially enjoyed Langston Hughes’ work, and we’d often recite bits of ‘Harlem’ or ‘Mother to Son’ to one another,” he said. “As the years have gone on, I’ve learned to enjoy poets of all walks — the ones gracing stages at poetry slams, open mics and all the places we’re lucky to find poets these days.”
The Michigan State University Department of Education PhD student, educator and performance artist will perform a collection of his poems from “Detroit: Workers, Teachers, and Lovers,” in the RCAH Theater in Snyder Hall at 7 p.m. Nov. 4.
Langford is no stranger to the poetry slam and open mic scene, and has received numerous awards for his creative works. Langford was named 2017 Motown Mic Spoken Word Artist of the Year, “Best of Show” in the American Advertising Awards, a Michigan Emmy Award and the 2021 Mark Ritzenhein Emerging Poet Award, sponsored by the Lansing Poetry Club.
The poet’s first book, “Detroit: Workers, Teachers and Lovers,” published by Finishing Line Press in June 2022, is an ode to Langford’s formative years spent in the Motor City’s blue-collar culture.
“When I think about Detroit, I think of the educators (formal and informal), the hard work and love that every city needs to thrive,” he said. “The poems in my chapbook speak to my experiences learning to see the world through the eyes of a native Detroiter, as well as the ways that my experiences have expanded upon that vision.
Langford is active in the MSU and greater Lansing community, helping students of all ages share in the joy of poetry. He specializes in literacy-based education, has written and staged a play, and is a teaching artist and poet. He’s collaborated with several local organizations, including All of the Above Hip Hop.
Through Langford’s active involvement in the arts scene, he hopes to promote the power of storytelling and teamwork. He also believes in the importance of perseverance in poetry.
Winning the Lansing Poetry Club’s Ritzenhein Emerging Poet Award was an important milestone for Langford.
The winning local poet (in Barry, Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Gratiot, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Livingston or Shiawassee counties) who has not previously published a chapbook or book of poems, receives a book contract.
“This was not my first time applying for the award,” he said. “I’m grateful for the folks who encouraged me to ‘hit resubmit’ and contend again for this amazing literary opportunity. Now, thanks to the Lansing Poetry Club, I’m able to share my first chapbook of poetry, ‘Detroit: Workers, Teachers, Lovers,’ with the world.”
Langford hopes his poetry can encourage folks to stay curious and open-minded about the world, and to share their own stories. When it feels as if beauty is nowhere to be found, Langford said, “I hope folks feel inspired to make something beautiful, be it a poem, a song, painting — any creative endeavor that fulfills them.”
Although his dynamic performance is inspired by Detroit, Langford said one of his favorite places to present poetry is right here in East Lansing.
“The energy that I feel from my fellow Spartans is electric,” he said. “East Lansing has a dynamic local poetry scene. There are so many creatives, organizers and institutions at work…I know that the future of the poetry scene is bright. I encourage everyone to attend a show, to lend their voice and to be a part of this beautiful tapestry.”
The event is free of charge and open to the public. A reception will follow the performance and include a book publication party sponsored by the Lansing Poetry Club and the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU.