Message to Michael

Poetic tribute to Michael Jackson isn't all sequins and fedoras

Aug 11, 2010 at 12:00 am

Detroit poet-musician David Blair's vision of pop icon Michael Jackson isn't the fedora-tipping, sequined kind. It's more about a lonely, abused child trying to fall asleep in a strange place, trembling in fear of the snap of his father's belt.  

The first two lines of the opening poem "Into Darkness" read: 

Through boughs of weeping willows, I see you. Through cracks in wooden slats of shack housing, I see you. 

It's one of Blair's most moving and magical performance pieces. And it sets the tone for this collection, 

These poems take a defining tumble from the glamour of a stage or the flash and glitz of an MTV video to the unseen, tragic depths of real life. Is this really Michael Jackson? Yes, it is. 

Blair's fascination with Michael started several years ago, before the star's death. He zeroed in on the star's childhood, his family, and the controversy that shrouded him — brighter and more revealing than any spotlight. Michael provided an icon, a character, and a mythology that let the poet riff on race, sex, family, love, and death. 

Blair nods to the music and the myth with "A Thriller," "Neverland," and even "Say, Say, Say," after the duet with Paul McCartney. He moves among family members, devoting poems to the imagined voices of Katherine and Joe (Michael's mom and dad) and his sister Janet. Tucked in the middle, there's a jittery ballad for Michael's peers called "Child Stars." Blair wraps it up with a timeline that starts when Michael's parents meet and ends with his death in 2009.

With verses that make a music all their own, Blair's poems go beyond tribute. They dance across America's collective mind, never missing a beat, never letting their feet touch the ground.

Norene Smith writes about books for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].