An Urban Center in Detroit for Spiritual Renewal and Social Justice

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Vespers Poetry with UU Detroit

Every month on the fourth Thursday (with some exceptions), one of our poetry mavens reads a selection of seasonally and spiritually appropriate poetry, with music to match. From 6:00 - 7:00 pm.
Please contact Nancy Owen Nelson,, with any questions.

During the Covid-19 lockdown period, we are meeting online via Zoom --

Normally, our venue is Henry Ford Village, in the Library. Visitor parking is adjacent to the Great Lakes Clubhouse entrance. Do not park in a slot with a yellow dot on the concrete.

The next vespers poetry presentation is scheduled via Zoom for Thursday, September 24, 2020 at 6PM. Lencha Acker, Lee Thume, Sally Borden, and Nancy Owen Nelson will present poetry and music with the theme of Hope and Light.

The August 27, 2020 vespers poetry presentation featured Jennifer Horne with the theme of Borrowed Light.

What are the sources of light we live by? How do we sustain ourselves when times are dark? In Borrowed Light, Jennifer Horne uses an architectural term that refers to bringing sunlight to rooms without windows as a metaphor for finding illumination through nature, art, dreams, and other people. Many different kinds of light appear in this book: morning light and twilight, porch light and candle light, the glow of fireflies and the hard clarity of winter light. Seeking "light, perspective, something new", Horne imagines a world in which both choice and serendipity play their parts. She will read poems from "Borrowed Light" as well as a few other light-centered poems by others.

Jennifer Horne is the Poet Laureate of Alabama, 2017-2021. Raised in Arkansas and a longtime resident of Alabama, Horne is a writer, editor, and teacher who explores Southern identity and experience, especially women's, through prose, poetry, fiction, and anthologies and in classrooms and workshops across the South.

Her latest book is a collection of poems, a chapbook titled Borrowed Light, from Mule on a Ferris Wheel Press. Her previous collection, Little Wanderer, was published in Ireland by Salmon Publishing. Tell the World You're a Wildflower is a collection of short stories in the voices of Southern women and girls. She is also the author of two other poetry chapbooks and another poetry collection, Bottle Tree, and the editor of Working the Dirt: An Anthology of Southern Poets. With Wendy Reed, she co-edited the essay collections All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality and Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. With Don Noble, she edited Belles' Letters II, an anthology of short fiction by Alabama women, and she also is at work on a biography of writer Sara Mayfield.

She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Seaside Institute in Florida, and in 2015 she gave the Rhoda Ellison Lecture at Huntingdon University in Montgomery, Alabama and was awarded the Druid City Literary Arts Award, given by the Tuscaloosa Arts Council. For the spring semester of 2018, she was the Visiting Writer-in-Residence at Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory, North Carolina.

Her web page and blog, "A Map of the World," are at:

On July 23, 2020, Lencha Acker, long-time member of First UU Detroit, presented the poetry and music of Joy Harjo, U. S. Poet Laureate. Harjo is a member of the Muskogee Creek Nation and is the first Native American Poet Laureate recipient. She was active in the second-wave Native American Renaissance.

On June 25, 2020, we had a VERY unusual offering for Vespers--a Zoom play by Upper Peninsula Poet Laureate, Russell Thorburn. Thorburn, poet and playwright, is the author of four books of poems. Somewhere We'll Leave the World, published by Wayne State University Press, draws on the poet's own experiences while imagining fictional characters and personal heroes. In a previous book, Misfit Hearts, he chronicles the making of The Misfits through the filming-location photographs of Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. He has received numerous grants, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. An artist-in-residence at the National Mojave Preserve where his poetry was featured in an exhibition at the Kelso Depot Museum. His radio play, Happy Birthday James Joyce, was aired on Public Radio 90 and later performed Off-Off-Broadway. Thorburn was the first poet laureate of the Upper Michigan in 2013. He teaches composition at Northern Michigan University.

The play: A retro-alternate-reality apocalyptic neo-noir where the Cold War gets hot in more ways than one—one-act play written by Russell Thorburn, adapted for stage and zoom by Christopher Scott Leith, with an original guitar score by Jeremy Morelock. It features the following actors from Marquette: Tiina and Endla Harris, Chet Defonso, and Christopher Scott Leith.

On May 28, 2020, Elayne Sikelianos presented "A Higgledy-Piggledy of Classical Poetry, Detroit poetry, and the Poetry of Eleni Sikelianos", accompanied by music from the late Detroit "Queen of the Blues" Alberta Adams.

Merriam Webster defines "higgledy-piggledy" as "in a confused, disordered, or random manner." However, Elayne Sikelianos is anything but! Her selections will be thoughtful and accessible within the poetic tradition established by Chaucer—to express creatively imagery in the vernacular, or in the language of the people.

A member of First UU Detroit since 2005, Elayne has served on the Board, the Worship Committee, and she has cooked for the Women’s Alliance for a number of years. Coming from a musical family, Elayne has been involved in the worlds of both Blues and Jazz, and served as a chauffeur for Blues icon John Lee Hooker when she lived in California.

On April 30, 2020, Dorothy Gilbert presented music and poetry. Dorothy has served on the faculties of the University of California at Davis, Mills College, Merritt College, and the California State University, East Bay and the University of California, Berkeley. In addition, she has long been secretary of the West Coast branch of PEN, the writers' international advocacy organization. She is translator of Marie de France: Poetry, and the forthcoming, Fox Woman.

Dorothy is Steve Curtin's aunt and Steve provided live music to accompany Dorothy's readings.

January 22, 2020 vespers featured Caroline Maun on the theme of Creativity and Well Being.
Caroline Maun is an associate professor of English at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She teaches creative writing and American literature and is the Chair. Her poetry publications include the volumes The Sleeping (Marick Press, 2006), What Remains (Main Street Rag, 2013), and three chapbooks, Cures and Poisons and Greatest Hits, both published by Puddinghouse Press, and Accident, published by Alice Greene & Co. Her poetry has appeared in The Bear River Review, The MacGuffin, Third Wednesday, Peninsula Poets, and Eleven Eleven, among other places.

On September 25, 2019, Nancy Owen Nelson presented poetry while employing music as a motif. She shared some of her own poems from her recently published books as well as those of other poets.
Nancy Owen Nelson, along with her husband Roger Zeigler, has been a member of UU Detroit church since the spring of 2012. She is a college English professor who has recently turned her attention toward research and writing about her ancestry in the South. This includes a memoir and two books of poetry. More info at

On August 28, 2019 Anne Gautreau shared poems she was compelled to write simply because she paid close attention to particular moments in life. For her, poetry is not so much something that is created as it is something that occurs. Former poet laureate, Howard Nemverov says: "Poetry enables me to carry on an interesting relation with my own life. What's more important in life than something that's interesting?"
Anne Gautreau holds degrees from WMU and UM and has taken courses at Harvard, Berkeley, SUNY, Northeastern, Skidmore, Creighton, and Trinity in Dublin. She taught humanities, leadership training, film study and creative writing at Edsel Ford High School and composition classes at HFC as an adjunct.

On July 24, Dawn McDuffie presented original poetry along with other appropriate musical and poetry selections, in a program entitled Voices of Summer => Program.

On June 26, 2019. Nancy Shattuck presented a sampling of world-wide poetry in which the poets speak directly to higher beings / spirits. On the list were Gerard Manley Hopkins, Rumi, Dickenson, Izumi Shikibu, Jack Gilbert, and others. Music-wise, there was some Indo-persian instrumental music, a native American song to Wankan Tanka, 'Anthem' by Leonard Cohen, and more.

On May 22 2019. Dwight 'Skip' Stackhouse shared some of his original poetry on topics including family, romance, and nature.

On April 24 2019, Nancy Owen Nelson and Alexander Payne Morgan presented poetry about the historical and more recent South. Nancy read from her memoir, Searching for Nannie B: Connecting Three Generations of Southern Women (2015) and her poetry chapbook, My Heart Wears No Colors (2018). Alex's poetry has appeared in Dunes Review, The MacGuffin, Peninsula Poets, Sequestrum, and Crack the Spine among others. His chapbook Loneliness Among Primates was published in 2018 by Kelsay Books.

On March 27, 2019, Elayne Sikelianos presented Hysterical Women i Have Not Known, in honor of Women's History Month. She presented Sappho, Native American women poets, some Rembetiko Women, Maya Angelou and others, along with some appropriately themed music.

On February 27, 2019, Amy Jackson & Wiladel Johnson presented Gifts from the Ancestors, in honor of Black History Month.

On January 23, 2019, Al and Lencha Acker presented An Evening with Mary and Billy, featuring poetry by Mary Oliver and Billy Collins.

On November 28, 2018, Nancy Shattuck presented Adrienne Rich's poems of activism from the sixties and seventies, accompanied by the music of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

During her second sabbatical, Anne Gautreau studied Irish literature and folklore at Trinity College Dublin. After living in a cottage on the Dingle Peninsula for two months, she deemed Seamus Heaney her favorite poet and ever after enjoyed weaving his writing into courses she taught. She shared his exquisite words at Vespers on Wednesday, October 24, 2018. You can gain a sense of how life in Ireland shaped Heaney's language via this 11-minute video: Walking Tour: Seamus Heaney - The Music of What Happens

On September 26, 2018, Anita Ruby Jones shared stories and poems from Anne Cameron's Daughters of Copper Woman along with American-Indian music. Barbara Anne Cameron (born August 20, 1938 in Nanaimo, British Columbia) is a Canadian novelist, poet, short story writer, and screenwriter. Cameron legally changed her name from her birth name, Barbara Cameron, to Cam Hubert and, later, from Cam Hubert to Anne Cameron. She has written under all these names. Much of her work is inspired by Northwest Coast First Nations' mythology and culture.

The Vespers poetry poetry program on August 22, 2018 was presented by Nancy Owen Nelson, featurind the poetry of Freya Manfred and also brief passages from her father's, Frederick's, work. Freya's web site

The Vespers poetry poetry program on July 25, 2018 featured poetry and music presented by Elayne Sikelianos, including works by her daughter Eleni, Carl Sandburg, Omar Khayyam (purportedly), and anonymous Sufis!

The Vespers poetry program on April 25, 2018 was led by Lencha Acker and Nancy Owen Nelson. They presented the poetry of Wendell Berry and Jane Kenyon. The session also included the poetry of students from Inside/Out.

The Vespers program on March 28, 2018 was led by Al and Lencha Acker who read poems by Mary Oliver and Billy Collins, with additional poetry selections from guest readers. The poetry was interspersed with musical selections.

The Vespers program on February 28, 2018 was, Medicine: New and Selected Poems, the fourth poetry collection by Dr. Gloria House, also known by her African pen name, Aneb Kgositsile. She is a Detroit poet, human rights activist and educator. Anita Ruby Jones read her poems, accompanied by musical selections.

Vespers on January 24, 2018 was led by Dan Secrest. Dan presented history, poetry, and music of the Philippines.

Vespers on November 29, 2017 was led by James Tierney. James gave a poetry recital (from a variety of masterful poets such as Rumi), including song and uplifting chanting in telling of the story of one man's journey to Awakening through the unlikely path of a years-long exploration within the scientific/rationalistic/materialistic world-view.

Vespers on October 25, 2017 was led by Nancy Owen Nelson. Nancy presented the poetry of Walt Whitman, as well as poetry related to his work, including a personal composition by Nancy. Accompanying the poetry was Civil War era music. Dan Secrest read a poem by Francis Harper from a Garrison Keillor anthology.

Vespers on September 27, 2017 was led by Anita (Ruby) Jones, celebrating the birth month of former 1stUU member, Ron Allen. We heard selected poems from Ron's published books from 1996 to 2004. We also heard selected recordings from his own CD's of poetry accompanied by music. His writing follows the arc of his life from veteran, poet, community activist, mentor and playwright to Buddhist priest.

Vespers on August 23, 2017 was led by Nancy Owen Nelson. Nancy read works by poets from the Detroit area, including some of her own work and also some by UU Detroit poet Ruby Woods. Transcript of the poems presented

Vespers in March 2017 welcomed back a favorite: Ruby Jones brought words and instruments and shared Goddess Chants and Circle songs in a Vernal Equinox Sing-a-long.

Given the current political climate and the proximity to Valentines Day, February 2017 Vespers featured poetry about all kinds of love except the Hallmark variety and some lovely music.

Vespers in November 2016 featured T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and music from the musical inspired by it, "Cats."

October 2016 vespers highlighted the poetry of early African-American poet Paul Dunbar along with selections from other poets, a taste of Halloween and recorded music.

September 2016 vespers featured famous and not so famous Unitarian-Universalist poets and poetry.

For the August 24, 2016 vespers, various people shared favorite poems, including one original work.

For our vespers on July 27, 2016, we had four talented young poets from InsideOut join us, just a week after they have participated in "Brave New Voices" a national competition in Washington, D.C. for school-age poets. Check out their website

For our June 2016 vespers, the spotlight was on the Summer Solstice.

May 25, 2016 vespers featured the poetry of recently deceased poet and antiwar activist priest Daniel Berrigan among others, interspersed with musical selections.

April 2016 was National Poetry month so vespers featured some old favorites, Mary Oliver and Billy Collins, along with several other less famous poets, interspersed with musical selections.

The March 23, 2016 vespers was entitled My Voice is My Instrument. Anita Jones shared original songs and poems along with the story of her alter ego, Ruby Woods. She sang a capella and brought along her bag of percussion instruments.

The February 24, 2016 vespers was cancelled due to snow.

January 27, 2016: Inspired by her wonderful church service last year, the first vespers of the new year featured the poetic lyrics and music of songwriter extraordinaire Lee Thume.

In November 2015, we revisited a vespers favorite, poet Mary Oliver.

The October 28, 2015 vespers featured the works of Donald Hall and his late wife, Jane Kenyon, interspersed with musical selections.

The September 30, 2015 vespers featured short poems by a wide variety of female and male poets, young and old. Autumn and moon poems were prominent as we reflected on the recent blood moon. Danny Rebb read a poem composed by our Universalist minister, Reverend Willis Moore, from the building's perspective at its dedication in April 1916. Cheryl Greene also contributed some powerful emotional readings.

The August 26, 2015 vespers featured the poem "Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot and an essay about the poem, along with Beatles music, and Ruth Seifert's selection from Garrison Keillor's book.

The July 29, 2015 vespers featured a couple of favorites: Mary Oliver and Billy Collins, plus a delightful essay from the July 5th New York Times.

The June 24, 2015 vespers featured a wide variety of poets, beginning with a poem Maryli Secrest wrote for Alena Acker's wedding. Also several authors' take on aging. Music was from a great new CD called "The Longest River" featuring singer/guitarist Olivia Cheney.

The May 27, 2015 vespers service featured a wide variety of poets, including Detroit-born Marge Piercy, Randall Jarrett and others, along with some relaxing guitar and mandolin music. Sally Borden read her selection from Garrison Keillor's book.

The April 22, 2015 vespers featured poems about goddesses. The musical interludes were by Norah Jones.

The March 25, 2015 vespers featured various poets' views of God and some poems by Philip Levine, the Detroit-born poet laureate who died in February. Also music from Paul Simon.

The February 11, 2015 vespers was presented by Nancy Owen Nelson, who read a variety of poems of her own (and at least one by her mother) about love in its many manifestations. Outline of Presentation

The January 14, 2015 vespers service featured a wide variety of LGBTQ poets and poetry. Interspersed with the poetry was music from lesbian singer k.d. lang. Transcript of January 14, 2015 poetry program.

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