Vickie Brent-Touray is on a quest to unlock the creative talents of Pontiac’s people. To that end, the poet has launched a series of events throughout the city designed to reawaken the audience’s imagination.
Brent-Touray started Yaktown Poets, a poetry performance event series that attracted 100 people on its first night, in 2014. Not only has that event grown in size and scope, it revealed to Brent-Touray a deep-seated need within the people of the community to express their creative selves. Not just the self-identified poets, she says, but everybody. It’s why Yaktown Poets now runs a regular open mic series out of the Alleycat Cafe in downtown Pontiac, where anyone who signs up has an opportunity to express themselves.
“We can’t pay your rent, but we can certainly create a space where you can forget about the fact that your rent needs to be paid, or that you got to go work on Monday,” says Brent-Touray. “Where you can just enjoy yourself. That’s really important to me.”
Brent-Touray has also started the Wonder Women Breakfast Club, a series of breakfast events that gather women at area restaurants to encourage empowerment and community. She has big aspirations for the club, hoping to eventually expand it to include retreats and an expo. And she’s planning to start a Yaktown Poets group for children.
There are two main sources of influence that have inspired Brent-Touray’s never-ending enthusiasm and drive for organizing these events to empower others.
First are her parents, southerners who moved to Pontiac to work in the automotive industry. Brent-Touray remembers her parents throwing big parties, events where she watched the art of hospitality first-hand.
Teachers have also played a major role in Brent-Touray’s development. Having always had a love for reading and writing, it wasn’t until she walked into Lorene Phillips’s ninth grade Language Arts classroom at Pontiac Central High School that Brent-Touray realized that she could be a writer. She says that she never really connected to literature until she walked into that classroom, which displayed images of black women writers and performers on the walls. It had a profound impact her.
“When I saw all those faces, I knew that I could have my picture up there, too,” she recalls. “Because I can write.”
Brent-Touray went on to college to pursue psychology and later became a teacher, all the while writing on her own time. It was while taking a creative writing course at Wayne State University that Brent-Touray was emboldened by professor Chris Tysh, who encouraged her to pursue her poetry. She moved to Atlanta for five years, where she published her book of poetry, A Peace of My Mind.
She eventually returned to her hometown of Pontiac, where she lives today and launched Yaktown Poets. The events and her creative life are going so well, she says, that her husband tells her that if life gets any better than this, they’re just being greedy. She says that to be a catalyst for the release of creativity in others “is like playing in the grass.”
“I don’t know if I believe in this whole idea of heaven with streets paved with gold,” says Brent-Touray. “I think I’m in heaven right now.”
Name and title: Vickie Brent-Touray, local author (A Peace of My Mind, Vickie Brent-Touray, available on amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com) and Founder of Yaktown Poets.
Year founded Yaktown Poets: 2013.
One interesting job she had before Yaktown: Remedial Behavioral Specialist for St. Vincent’s, “in a former life.”
Favorite poet and poem: I can’t bring myself to a limit, but ONE is the Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem entitled: For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enuf
Something unique to the poetry scene in Pontiac: We’re as interested in inspiring those who have “dormant creativity” as we are interested in those who are ready to showcase their talent.
MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.