Choosing Lansing: Melissa Dey Hasbrook
Melissa Dey Hasbrook is one-of-a-kind.
A poet, advocate, organizer and ally of the LGBT community, she’s releasing a poetry collection entitled Circle…Home and launching a small press named “femestiza” that’s committed, she says, to “publishing stories from the heart." Melissa wants to make sure femestiza is “accessible to people who don’t go the traditional publishing route,” she explains. “Collections, bodies of work, and stories already exist. A press is a way to work with these people who want to have control of the creative process.”
In Circle…Home, “people will find something that resonates with their own story,” says Melissa. "It’s my hope that they’ll be inspired.” The book, funded in part by a grant from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, contains a lot of photography and is divided into four sections: journal entries; the land, once called DeWitt; Hope at the Center; and the Mason Esker, a geological landform that extends from DeWitt to Mason. Melissa’s interested, she discloses, in exploring overlaps of past, present and future.
Her poetic pursuits began when she was a kid and were pretty natural. Her father, brother and a great aunt on her mom’s side all wrote poetry. “In grad school, it got a hold of me again. I write poetry because it seems to be what I’m wired to do.” She can’t explain why people read what she writes. “I keep sharing it because I’m told that it encourages people to share their own stories,” she answers. “They somehow connect in their own way to what I share and it affirms that this is a gift to be shared.”
Melissa embraces the “third wave” of feminism – a movement recognizing that women are of many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds. According to Google, the third wave embraces contradictions, conflict and irrationality and attempts to accommodate diversity and change. This description could apply to Melissa as well.
She’s open one minute, guarded the next. She identifies strongly with those who - like her - are abuse survivors, and her website refers to her being in recovery and living a sober life, yet she’s unwilling to reveal the location of her three tattoos.
She claims to suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder but displays lots of patience with those who interview, and interrupt, her. She gives off that “younger brother’s girlfriend” vibe – she’ll be nice to you because she kind of has to but don’t step on her toes because she’s no shrinking violet.
She’s no intellectual lightweight either. When asked to explain her graduate degree in “Community Literacies,” Melissa responds, “One way to define ‘community literacies’ is ‘the study of how people use situational knowledge in various communication acts.’ By learning how people maneuver language in everyday life across communities, we recognize the skill of words beyond textbooks and what is culturally valued as standard use.” She clearly loves words. “Most words are beautiful,” she says, “but what’s more important than the word itself is how you use it.”
Social Activism in Lansing
Justice and equality are important to her, too, and she thinks these are alive and well in Lansing. “Greater Lansing is rich with people making our community a safer and celebratory place for all genders, races, sexual orientations,” she says. “There’s always work to be done in speaking truth to power and keeping authorities accountable.”
Why did she return to Lansing? “Lansing inspires me with our grassroots arts scene, proximity to nature, and accessible community programs,” she says. “I also missed the animal life from home, where sightings of deer and rabbit are commonplace – which is not the case in Flanders, the part of Belgium where I lived.”
“I love living on the Eastside,” she adds. “Conversations crop up as neighbors walk to community-oriented businesses like Gone Wired Cafe and Everybody Reads Bookstore, and obtain nonprofit services from the Women's Center of Greater Lansing and The Listening Ear. I’m proud to call the Eastside home.”
When asked if DeWitt is distinct from Lansing or part of it, she replies, “DeWitt and Lansing are names given to places with a long shared history, from the glaciers that shaped the Great Lakes basin to the Anishinabe who lived here before European immigrants. Ecologically and culturally these places are linked, even when economic and political actions emphasize separateness. My research for Circle...Home laid bare these realities, like policies regulating a landfill in one county that’s a stone's throw from the next and sits on an aquifer stretching across both.”
She’s political but no longer overt about it. “I used to take more direct political action, engaging with elected officials, but I learned I need to focus on the creative process,” she says. “When I focused on the overtly political stuff, I found myself working from a place of anger, and that wasn’t a lifestyle that I found sustainable.”
What does she like the least about Lansing? “I don’t think about it that way,” she explains. “There’s a lot here to like.” When pressed, she offers that when she rode her bicycle in DeWitt, where she grew up, she felt unsafe and was even called names. A more recent bike ride from her home to East Lansing proved to be a “hostile experience” and convinced her that Lansing needs more bike lanes and alternative forms of transportation.
If the worst thing an intelligent, compelling poet and community organizer can say about our community is that it needs more bike lanes, we’re doing okay.
Melissa was kind enough to share one of her poems with us:
the land strives
beneath the surface
and fluid resists
three kilometers of ice
of years ago
the land rises
as buoyancy opposes
an ancient weight
as scientists trace
that layers move
at different velocities
that fluid arises
on the land
beneath the surface
and some strive
the Indian theory
that the land is alive
that she resists harm
and she speaks
whether or not we listen
~ Melissa Dey Hasbrook