Craig A. Combs breaks into Toledo poetry sceneWritten by Morgan Delp | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On July 23, 2010, Flint, Mich., native Craig A. Combs was ready to give up the battle he had been fighting against a chronic illness for six years.
“I had resigned myself that my time was up. I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t continue to live on drugs that had as many side effects as the disease itself. I had to make a really major decision at that point as whether to continue or not,” Combs said.
Combs, 43, said he had stopped eating, drinking, taking his medication and had even written a will when his father gave him a pep talk that changed his life and inspired him to publish a book of almost two and a half decades worth of his poetry.
“My dad sat at the end of my bed and said, ‘Do you really want to die and give up? Well, you’re not giving up in my house.’ … That was his way of telling me ‘I love you and I don’t want you to go. I will not be a part of seeing you die,’” Combs said. “It was that little pep talk that kicked me in the butt.”
Combs said it took him six to eight months to gain his weight back and return to his feet. It was his renewed enthusiasm and creativity that kept him on track and focused, Combs said.
“It was all about my choice, and from that point forward I have felt very intimately that we all have the choice to come at an experience uplifting and hopeful or fall into desperation and just give up,” Combs said. “At that point I started looking at all my poetry; I had been writing for 23 years. I swore to God himself I was not leaving this Earth without publishing it.”
That’s just what Combs did. He published his life’s work in September 2011 and his book, “Taking Tea in the Black Rose: Singing Through the Shadows Until We’re Dancing in the Light,” launched Oct. 28. Since January, the Old West End resident has been sharing his work at local poetry readings.
“When we don’t hear and see the signs on an emotional and mental level, we tend to get them so dense and so encrusted and so rooted that they become physical conditions,” Combs said of his illness. “I’ve been sharing my life’s work ever since January of this year. I’ve never felt better.”
‘The Black Rose’
Combs’ book is named for a poem he wrote in 1992. He describes the “Black Rose” as a place he visits to escape “all of the craziness.”
“It’s a solitary place where my work is crafted, not in my mind as much as in my heart,” Combs said. “The rose represents my heart space, because it unfolds, and life is the unfolding of the heart.”
The book is divided into five chapters that correspond with the five elements of Chinese medicine: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Combs said he became a student of holographic repatterning, which incorporates a blend of Eastern and Western traditions of medicine, similar to reiki, in 2005.
“My poetry is more emotional than intellectual,” Combs said.
Because of this, Combs sorted his poems into the five chapters based on their predominant emotional frequency. Combs said poems with whimsical energies are in the spring or wood section because they bring about feelings of chaotic rainstorms and violent winds. A poem of transformation would be in the fall or metal section, Combs said.
Combs said the subtitle of the book, “Singing Through the Shadows Until We’re Dancing in the Light,” developed during the editing process.
“We all have to deal with the shadow side of life, [which] can be brutal. There’s experiences we want to forget about,” Combs said. “Even in the midst of shadows we’re still singing through it. I’m picking myself up, brushing myself off, turning that frown upside down.”
Stepping on the scene
Combs said he has been spreading his message by performing at poetry readings in the Toledo and southeast Michigan area. Sharing with others took some getting used to, Combs said.
“It’s a whole different monster. Poetry for me is putting my whole heart on my sleeve. For me it is so personal and connected and deeply rooted in my whole core and my whole being. To separate it would be impossible. I think that’s why it took nearly 25 years to start reading it out loud,” he said.
Combs found he had to change the way he thought about his poems before he could present them to audiences.
“I never thought there was anything to gain from [sharing]. I thought of them as my journals,” Combs said. “But art, no matter what form it’s in, is meant to be shared with the world. It’s your gift to the world.”
The Web designer of Combs’ site, www.blackrosetea.com, is local artist Matt Taylor, who encouraged Combs to attend open-mic nights in Plymouth, Mich., at Plymouth Coffee Bean Co. on Monday nights. Combs has also performed at Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea in Ann Arbor.
Since February, Combs has performed at Glass City Cafe in Toledo, and for the past three months with the Broadway Bards at The Original Sub Shop & Deli in the Old South End.
Tara Armstrong began a themed poetry series in 2011 at Glass City Cafe, and Combs first participated when he filled in at the last minute on Feb. 10, in a reading night titled “Crave: An Erotic Literature Reading.” Armstrong likes the themed nights because she said they hold the attention of the audience, instead of forcing them to jump from topic to topic.
Armstrong said Combs is a gifted and passionate poet whose work, while “deep and observant,” is not for everyone.
“Craig’s writing has a new age feel that doesn’t appeal to some but attracts others. People who gravitate toward his style would certainly say Craig is in a league of his own,” Armstrong said. “Other poets are passionate about politics, romance, loss, self-awareness or anything else that captivates and moves. Craig is passionate about witnessing life and gaining from both that sight as well as the process of living, and I think he has mastered the art of perceiving and accepting.”
Hod Doering was one of the founders of the Broadway Bards, a group that reads poetry on the third Saturday evening of each month at The Original Sub Shop & Deli on Broadway Street. Combs, who Doering classifies as a romantic, was the featured half-hour performer in June.
“I’ve enjoyed his poetry,” Doering said of Combs. “He has good imagery and a good grasp of his craft I think. He’s off to a really good start, and he will probably grow and change, as most of us do.”
Combs has continued to promote himself and his work in the Toledo area, which Doering said will pay off for him.
“His energy will really help him. He has volunteered to promote the Bards in Toledo,” Doering said. “[His energy] will give him a place in the scene here.”
Combs said he plans to continue reading at open-mic events while pursuing a couple of new endeavors. One of these is a second book, which has a working title of “Seducing Ourselves: Love Letters from an Unhindered Heart.”
The book’s premise is inspired by love letters, romantic and otherwise, that Combs has sent and received over the years.
“I have lots sent back and forth that can very easily be put in the category of poetry. It can be easily formatted,” Combs said. “I already have a lot done for the book; I’ve written six of them.”
Combs also wants to find a venue to host his own open-mic nights in Toledo. He believes his previous experience in producing and promoting the Miss Gay Ohio America pageant will be very useful. He said he has been talking with different venues and would ideally like to start something at the end of July or August.
“I stay busy with things that are creative and constructive. I have a hard time sitting around doing nothing,” Combs said. “This summer’s about finding the balance in just being. I thought I would take time off and do nothing. Absolutely not.”
For more information on Combs and his book, visit www.blackrosetea.com.