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April 14, 2014

Bloomfield Hills-based poetry magazine boasts local, national talent

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Jason Schusterbauer, Brian Smith and Cybelle Codish listen intently during a Cruel Garters live poetry reading at the Gaelic League in Detroit April 13.

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — It doesn’t take many words to say something special or profound, merely the right ones.

Poets know that better than anyone. The editors of Cruel Garters, a small poetry publication based in Bloomfield Hills, have known the value of the written word for years. Now, they want to share their secret with others.

Glen Armstrong, of Waterford, and Ben Bennett-Carpenter, of Bloomfield Hills, launched Cruel Garters a year ago. The two are professors of writing at Oakland University and decided to produce the short magazine to mimic similar publications from decades ago.

“When I was an undergrad (student), I would see these handmade magazines from the ’60s that people from New York were putting out,” said Armstrong. “I was always fascinated that they were really low budget but really quality poetry.”

So far, the duo has published three magazines, each with only six poems inside. The quality can’t be measured in quantity, though — noteworthy poets from across the country have contributed to the effort, including Bill Berkson, Jerome Sala and Jennifer L. Knox.

“I was pretty active at Wayne State University as a poet, and then out of state (also). This is kind of helping me get back in touch with people,” said Armstrong, who produced a similar publication while at WSU.

Bennett-Carpenter was glad to get on board with the venture.

“We thought there was a place for this kind of no-nonsense poetry publication coming out of metro Detroit,” he said.

He lives on the campus of the Cranbrook Educational Community with his wife, Lynn Bennett-Carpenter, who teaches textiles at the Cranbrook Kingswood School. She designs the cover for each issue of Cruel Garters. Bennett-Carpenter describes his wife’s designs as “bizarre theatrical imagery” to complement the feel of the poems inside.

They produce the tiny but mighty magazine themselves, and they pay to have it printed, too. Each copy is sold for between $2 online and $1 at select local bookstores or at live readings. There are print copies only; no online edition is available. That’s part of the charm. You can follow Cruel Garters on Facebook for more details on those appearances.

There’s no doubt that Detroit has a thriving art and literary scene, so it seems an unusual choice that Cruel Garters’ mailing address is at Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, miles north of the hip city. That’s just one more thing that makes the publication special, Armstrong said.

“I’ve known people with creative projects who have gotten P.O. boxes in Detroit, even though they live in the suburbs,” he said, adding that the suburban community has embraced the publication.

So, where will Cruel Garters lead the professors in the future? Neither can say for sure. Whether they’ll expand the publication, print more copies, release issues more frequently or perhaps monetize the venture — that’s all up in the air. Right now, it’s just a labor of love.

“It’s not about the money; it’s about the gesture,” said Bennett-Carpenter. “So far, it’s been well-received. Each is a limited run of about 200 copies, and almost all of the copies from our first issue are gone.”

The editors haven’t printed their own literary creations in Cruel Garters, and they don’t intend to. With hundreds of submissions for each edition, there’s no lack of talent to choose from.

“There’s no charity given here. We’re looking for the best of the best,” said Bennett-Carpenter, adding that they’re always looking for contributors. “It’s a good combination of well-established poets and new, young poets. There’s a diversity of age groups and backgrounds.”

To learn more about Cruel Garters, visit www.CruelGarters.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.