This weekend Heid Erdrich will be sharing some of her poetry at an event for Minnesota State Arts Board grant winners.
But instead of reading her poems, she'll be showing them on the big screen.
Short poem film by Heid E. Erdrich, Art Direction by R. Vincent Moniz, Jr., Animation by Jonathan Thunder--in collaboration with the artists of Pilot Car.
Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibway, has joined a growing number of poets that are finding new life - and new audiences - for their work in the form of videos. Erdrich says a video, when done right, makes the poem "ever-so-much-more-so itself."
"Since I first started writing, I have always thought of my poems as little movies," explains Erdrich. "After seeing a few other poets start making book trailers, I decided I wanted to make little poem films.
"Last winter I worked as a creative consultant to Zorongo Dance Theater, I had the chance to create poems as a kind of libretto inspired by Susan Di Palma's family story. Those poems form the basis of guiding imagery that I shared with Jonathan Thunder who was making animations for Zorro in the Land of the Golden-breasted Woodpecker. It was a thrill to collaborate that way and I realized that I wanted to do more--especially with Jonathan. He worked on all three of my poem films."
Short poem film based on a poem by Heid E. Erdrich, directed by Elizabeth Day
The three videos Erdrich will present tomorrow night vary dramatically in range and tone, from a sweet evocation of hanging laundry on a summer day, to a politically charged response to the Occupy movement.
Erdrich says she was inspired to write "Pre-occupied" after being asked to submit a poem for a project called "99 Poems for the 99%."
"It struck me as ironic that Native Americans are just a bit more than 1% of the population. Deeply ironic is the idea of Native Americans, who might sense their territories as occupied, being part of a movement called 'Occupy.' The poem imagines a movement centered on indigenous concerns. I had no conception of the current Idle No More movement when I wrote the poem, but here it has come into being and it is not unlike the vision of the poem."
Short poem film written by Heid E. Erdrich and translated into Anishinaabemowin by Margaret Noodin. Directed by R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. with effects by Jonathan Thunder.
Erdrich says as a result of working on the videos, she's learned to see things in layers.
"There were so many layers in one part of the film that it looked like a Navajo blanket.
Films are hard work that must be done in collaboration and that require people to understand or submit to your vision. The work was hugely challenging; I had to perform and I had to explain my choices, back them up, and nail them down. These films taught me that a shared vision is a liberation, even in a simple thing that last only a few minutes."
If you can't make Saturday's event, Erdrich and poet Ed Bok Lee will present their video poems on April 11 at the Central Library in Minneapolis.(1 Comments)
This Sunday at noon Barton Sutter and his brother Ross will perform poetry and music at Plymouth Church in Minneapolis.
The program, titled "This is the Day: Rejoicing Anyway" focuses on the spiritual response to suffering, and is part of the church's "Literary Witnesses" program.
Ross and Barton Sutter
Image courtesy of the artists
Bart says about the performance:
"As the Buddha said, everyone suffers. How we respond to suffering is a crucial spiritual question. Billions of people suffer more than Ross and I do, but art always works with particulars, and in our particular case, when we were just kids we watched helplessly as our mother suffered a gruesome illness and died. Such an experience shatters simple-minded religious faith. So then what? We designed our program around that experience and its spiritual consequences."
One of the poems Sutter will read on Sunday is "My Mother at Swan Lake" from his new collection The Reindeer Camps. Sutter says it took him close to fifty years to write.
"The memory of that picnic haunted me for decades, and I didn't know why. In writing the poem, which is mostly just description, I discovered some of the reasons for the haunting. For one thing, I realized this was the last day I remembered my original family as happy and whole. For another, my dead mother seemed to have a message for me in what she'd said that day, but I hadn't been hearing it clearly."
Sutter says he hopes to move the audience to tears, and to laughter.
"We hope they'll go away humming one of Ross's songs or maybe mumbling a couple of my lines. And since all of us suffer, I suppose the best one-word take-away would be--encouragement."
My Mother at Swan Lake
"This is the day which the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it."
A maniac for picnicking,
She'd pack us up to go
The very first thing in the spring;
Sometimes we sat in snow!
But we were well into the year;
The swans had all long gone.
We'd shed, like leaves, our nagging fears.
The lake went pink and calm.
Her hair'd come back; her light, low laugh;
Her cancer in "remission,"
A state that gave us some relief
From pain and vain religion.
My dad had let me start the fire.
I saw my mom was proud
Of how the flames kept growing higher;
They wouldn't flicker out.
I've clutched this day near fifty years
But always felt so stupid
That it could bring the sting of tears
When there was nothing to it:
My sister makes a small bouquet
Of weeds and faded asters,
But I can't hear my mother say
What she bends low to ask her.
My brother's down beside the shore;
I see his silhouette.
My father calls out, as before,
"Now don't go getting wet!"
My mother leans against a tree.
She sighs. I hear her say
Across the half a century,
"It's been a lovely day."
Born in Minneapolis, Dobby Gibson is the author of three collections of poetry: Polar, Skirmish, and now It Becomes You. Graywolf Press writes this of his work:
Meditative, lyrical, aphoristic, and always served with wry wit, the poems in Dobby Gibson's It Becomes You explore the divergent conditions by which we're perpetually defined--the daily weather, the fluctuations of the Dow, the growth of a cancer cell, the politics of the day. What surrounds us becomes us, Gibson suggests, in a book that will ultimately become you.
Gibson will be celebrating the publication of his third collection tonight at Open Book in Minneapolis at 7pm. Here's a sampling:
On the 21 bus this morning,
I noticed the Natural Braid & Beauty Supply
store on Lake Street
had a handmade sign in its front window
advertising Front Lace Wigs and Fittings by Relyndis.
I love Relyndis for daring to believe
that beauty can be supplied,
for believing in everything the used car dealers
farther down Lake have given up on,
beginning with the silver balloons and streamers
that disappeared once the economy went south.
Above the beauty supply store
there's a billboard for the Washburn-McCreary Funeral Home
advertising Quality and Value Cremation Services,
three white and white-haired men
in matching gold ties as shiny as the handles
of the three caskets I've lifted in my life.
There's Hymie's Records, where I found the Buck Owens LP
I'm unashamed to admit
I love listening to over and over
at least partly because it smells of an oddly comforting
mildew from a stranger's basement.
I was born on this street, about a mile from here,
and can still take it almost all the way to the house
where my parents live,
just beyond Minnehaha Creek,
my beautiful dad in his beautiful basement
listening to the TV at a volume that would scare a soldier.
On Lake Street, there's the station
where I catch the downtown train
to use these words I love so much
for purposes I occasionally don't.
I never thought I'd live here.
The other day, when I drove Tony down Lake Street
and pointed to the hospital where I was born,
he said, "Your life is one of shocking continuity,"
and I wondered whether I was being given
a compliment or a warning.
I wonder if it was 24 degrees
on the day I was born, as it is today,
and if the light sank like it is now,
the traffic vanishing after dinner.
I wonder if, in another 40 years,
my wife and I, and my daughter, and Relyndis,
and a half million other people like us
will still flush our toilets
into the river one last time before bed
as a new set of old used cars sleeps unsold on Lake Street,
and whether there will be another version
of the man with a limp
to shuffle out after the snow falls
to gently brush them off.
- Dobby Gibson. "Beauty Supply," from It Becomes You.
Copyright © 2013 by Dobby Gibson.
Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
10:56AM Update: Colin Kloecker at Works Progress sent me this recent video profile of Dobby Gibson, which includes him reading 'Beauty Supply' while riding the 21A. Enjoy!(0 Comments)
We've asked our Art Hounds to tell us about their Minnesota arts and culture highlights of 2011. Here is the first installment (look for more next week -- and share yours here):
Luverne Seifert and Darcy Engen's production of The Cherry Orchard
This site-specific production of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard was performed in houses on the Historical Register in five farming communities around the state. Getting in the car and driving out to the production in Taylors Falls made it a great summer adventure--theatre as road trip! It was amazing to see how a historic landmark--Fulsom House--was brought to life by serving as the setting for the play. Watching some of the best actors in the Twin Cities--Luverne Seifert, Sarah Agnew, Elise Langer and Stephen Cartmell make Chekhov's characters relevant, immediate, hysterical and heartbreaking was also incredible. It was an artistic endeavor that brought the best elemenst of Minnesota -- its history, its natural beauty and its amazing artists -- together to create an extraordinary theatrical experience.
-Elissa Adams, director of new play development at Children's Theatre Company
Aniccha Arts' In Habit: Living Patterns, at the Northern Spark Festival
One of the most exciting things about it is where it happened: under the Central Avenue Bridge. Each section had a corresponding evocative word projected on the underside of the bridge that you could see as the dance unfolded. One of the sections was slow and meditative, another used fast, furious footwork in tandem, and another used only gestural language from the elbow to the hand. It felt like a dream watching bodies move with extreme individualism and unison in the middle of the night, under a bridge, against the cityscape and along the water.
-Penelope Freeh, dancer and choreographer
Todd Boss's poetry collection Pitch
In his second collection (winner of the 2012 Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for Poetry), Boss expertly balances plain-enough Midwestern subject matter and a sophisticated sense of play. His language has a music considerably more beautiful than the dropped piano recalled in the book's title poem. Pitch was my introduction to Boss. He's become a poet I expect to follow wherever his muse leads him.
-Brian Beatty, writer, comedian, poet, host of mnartist.org's You Are Hear podcast
Sufjan Stevens' at Mill City Nights
This "Christmas Paegant" was everything that I hoped for in a concert: it was community oriented (the crowd sang along and got dressed up), it was funny and joyful, the band brought a spiritual component into the mix, it was a reflective and sincere celebration of Christmas and it made me happy to see that our generation is enthusiastic in understanding the eternal meanings of the times!
-Crystal Nelson, art therapist
Patricia Kirkpatrick is the author of Century's Road (Holy Cow! Press, 2004), as well as several chapbooks of poetry. Her books for young readers include Plowie: A Story From the Prairie (Harcourt, 1994) and John Keats and Maya Angelou, both part of the Creative Education Voices in Poetry series. A resident of Saint Paul, Kirkpatrick is also the first winner of Milkweed Editions' annual Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry. As part of the prize, Milkweed has published a collection of Kirkpatrick's poetry, titled Odessa. Here's a sample:
To get here we carried flowers,
took a vow, made a child,
broke a promise.
Maybe we made mistakes.
Now change fractures the core
of lives we knew,
brings us to benches, hard seats
along the wall.
When two plates of earth
rub against each other,
having nowhere else to go,
they crack or shatter.
"Brittle failure" geologists call it.
How could it happen to us?
Bodies are mostly water.
We think people want to be good.
Outside, day lilies bloom in planters.
Inside we're screened for weapons.
We stare at hands or look across the room
where others wait too, stunned
by the passage we've booked,
the ticket that delivers us
the lowest deck on a journey.
Some of us are taken to small rooms.
We might have attorneys or
orders for protection,
push strollers, hide bruises with scarves.
Blinking tears we notice the man
at the door wears a gun in his holster.
The judge stays invisible until the last minute
when a gavel divides voices from silence
and the order of the court.
Far away the oldest bird in the world,
black and white and listed
in field books as "common,"
wails a long call before diving
- "Family Court" by Patricia Kirkpatrick, as it appears in her collection Odessa, published by Milkweed Editions. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Milkweed Editions will celebrate the publishing of Odessa on November 28 with a reception at Open Book in Minneapolis. The reception will feature a "poetry swap" in which attendees are encouraged to bring a book of poetry to share and take a different one home in its place.
What's clicking for the hounds this week? A performance by Minnesota's Poet Laureate in Brainerd, a rising beat maker's instrumental homage to his mother, and a play about the lives of refugees in America.
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Fargo theater artist Brad Delzer has been waiting for a play like "Anon(ymous)" to come to Fargo-Moorhead, especially with its growing refugee population. "Anon(ymous)," originally written for the Children's Theater Company by Naomi Iizuka, is about what a young refugee boy encounters as he scours America, searching for his lost family. It's on stage this weekend only at the Little Country Theater at North Dakota State University.
When freelance music writer and Background Noise Crew CEO and producer Ali Elabbady heard "For My Mother," the newest offering from Minneapolis hip hop producer and beat maker Big Cats, aka Spencer Wirth Davis, he was moved. "For My Mother" is a collection of instrumental compositions converted into hip hop tracks and dedicated to Big Cats' mother, who passed away two years ago from ovarian cancer. Big Cats will celebrate the new album with a show tonight at the Cedar Cultural Center.
If you want to "feel Minnesota" through poetry, Northfield poet Joe Concannon says you need to see the state's poet laureate, Joyce Sutphen, read her work. Sutphen will deliver the goods on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 7pm, at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.
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Leslie Adrienne Miller is the author of six collections of poetry; her most recent release is titled simply "Y." A Professor of English at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Miller explores motherhood and child development, informed by both science and linguistics.
Miller reads Thursday night at SubText in St. Paul, along with fellow poets Roseann Lloyd and Kate Lynn Hibbard. Here's the title poem from Miller's latest collection:
Perhaps it's a thread that needs to be pulled,
a single stitch caught in the crux.
Whole word in French and Spanish,
vertical axis of Cartesian three
loaning its fragile branch to a boy
in theory. On y va. Let's go There.
What happens to unrepaired sequences
in subsequent generations? Semivowel,
blown umbrella, arrow reversed in wind,
frizzy blot of genetic code directing the symphony
of a trillion sperm, a single Y . . . might fold over,
line up these similar patches of genetic sequence,
and then accidentally delete everything
that lies in between. Je est un autre.
If the face is a christening in flesh,
the boy of him is its opposite,
raising the tent of bones in which
he will harbor all the starry anomalies
that a knowledge of God cannot undo.
- "Y" by Leslie Adrienne Miller, from her collection of the same name, published by Graywolf Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Sun Yung Shin is out with her second book of poetry, "Rough, and Savage." Shin is the author of Skirt Full of Black, winner of the Asian American Literary Award for Poetry in 2008. She is also the author of the bilingual Korean/English illustrated book for children, Cooper's Lesson.
Sun Yung Shin
Photo: Dan Markworth
Sun Yung Shin will read from her poetry at Banfille-Locke Center for the Arts this Friday night along with poet Scott Wrobel. Here's a sample of her work.
Like a wedding ring, or the bride's green ribbon, you shelter me.
No business but war.You remind me of a kind of heaven.
A cairn of rocks casting shadows in the shape of a man.
Thou art the table before me in the sight of my adversaries, thou dost
anoint my head: oil and rain, thou art a ghost with a girl's mouth,
thou art not the making of my dreams--under water, under cliff,
under this long suitcase of earth and bombs.More than any mortal
could gather beneath the skirt of the sky.
You are never eager, nor famished, nor pale with a craving for white
clothes or my nocturnes.
Let your lynx approach, even tiger, even its wild outline.
You need no ferryman or the obolus of the dead.
If I put a coin in my mouth I taste copper, not the corpse.
They say that bodies fertilized the ground so well the trees grow
bright and tall.The bones blur.We return alive.
- "(Demilitarized Zone)" is reprinted by permission from Rough, and Savage (Coffee House Press, 2012). Copyright © 2012 by Sun Yung Shin.
As part of Tuesday's event, Medeiros will read from his first collection of poetry, titled couplets for a shrinking world.
Here's a sampling:
I feel God only
as the stones feel the hard crush.
-- Cain, Ed Ingebretsen
I have looked for heroes in the seaweed.
Searched for tongues in the ocean's waves --
blue & green & wet with nature's fury.
All to find him.
I swear he was there once, lobster-trapped
along the shores of Narragansett Bay,
where I ran for three miles at 5 AM. The weight
of the wind heart-heavy against my chest:
Tired victims seek refuge
by facing north.
& I took him in like a secret breath --
& surrounded myself with holy water.
Faced the monastery to the north
(as if the north would protect me from myself).
Then, like parted waters, my body split in two --
One half crushed by his weight,
the other, long detached like an unknown twin
before dawn has planned her dirty day.
- Facing North, by John Medeiros, from his collection couplets for a shrinking world, published by North Star Press. Reprinted here with permission from the author.
It's called "SubText" - an apt name given its subterranean location. The bookstore hosts readings by local and regional authors pretty much every Wednesday evening. This Wednesday night will feature readings by four poets: Katrina Vandenberg, John Medeiros, Sierra DeMulder and Kris Bigalk.
Bigalk is the Director of Creative Writing at Normandale Community College. Her first full-length collection of poetry, Repeat the Flesh in Numbers, was released from New York Quarterly Books in February 2012.
Empty places scare you, those long-grass
quiet meadowlands of childhood, walking for miles
with only birds for company. You imagined everyone
you knew had slipped away, floated off to ride
clouds, sunk underground to spelunk the caverns, turned
into trees waving on the horizon. Being missed
is important, being that thought
on someone's mind that hangs on like a cockle-
burr, impossible to fully remove, always
some little fuzz or claw to remind,
frustrate, accept, or reject. But
you'd rather be a hunger, a craving,
like good dark chocolate or heavy
Swedish coffee, the kind you need before
ten o'clock each morning, or else a headache
will haunt you the rest of the day - yes, you
want to be the remedy before the symptom,
the warm blanket at the foot
of the bed, the reflection
of all who love you, perfect
versions of themselves
shining in your eyes.
A public art installation in the Mississippi River seeks to inspire contemplation as Minnesotans mark the 5th anniversary of I-35W bridge collapse.
"Project 35W", which is up through the month of August, is the work of poet Todd Boss and Swedish visual artist Maja Spasova. It consists of 35 oversized life-rings anchored in the calmer river waters between the Stone Arch Bridge and the new I-35W Bridge.
In addition, viewers can call (612) 573-5900 to hear Boss' sequence of thirty-five 35-word poems, "Fragments for the 35W Bridge," as read by Minnesotans.
Boss says he began writing the poems three years after the collapse because he found he was still haunted by his feelings about it: anger, frustration, fear and heartbreak over those whose lives were lost.
I crossed the bridge 20 minutes before it collapsed like thousands of other Minnesotans. Like 9/11, you really didn't have to be part of the tragedy to be a victim of it; the bridge collapse affected all of us. The city experienced a traumatic event.
I write poetry not because it helps me remember an idea, but because it helps me revisit and evolve my ideas. Five years after the event, the city's trauma has evolved, and so perhaps this poem maps the evolution of my own trauma. I hope readers will see their own evolution reflected in mine. I hope the installation on the river will provide a contemplative space for Minnesotans to bring whatever associations they see in it, for the sake of exploring their evolving thoughts and feelings about the collapse.
The official unveiling is tonight at 8pm at the northeast end of the Stone Arch Bridge.
In conjunction with the installation, the Star Tribune , and has created a website, and today published all 35 of Boss' poems. Here's one of them:
The hounds highlight a Walt Whitman Award winning poet from Robbinsdale, satire of the most divisive institution on the ballot this year, and Twin Cities hip hop producers who know how to win over a crowd.
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As co-creator of the Minneapolis-based Theater of Public Policy, Brandon Boat embraces art that tackles hot button issues, like who can marry whom. But Brandon prefers that theater strive toward creating a mutual understanding rather than deepening divisions. He predicts everyone will find something to laugh at in "The Vow Factor," Table Salt Productions and The Recovery Party's send-up of the institution of marriage.
What's with all the talented Twin Cities poets named Matt? Earlier this year Robbinsdale poet Matt Rasmussen sang the praises of local poet Matt Ryan. Now, it's Rasmussen's turn to be celebrated by another poet named Matt, Matt Mauch. Mr. Mauch says Mr. Rasmussen will be reading from his forthcoming book "Black Aperture" at the Robbin Gallery within the Robbinsdale Library on Thursday, June 28 at 7pm. Rasmussen won the distinguished Walt Whitman Award for the book, which is an extended series of poems contending with the suicide of a close family member. June 28, 2012 has also been declared Matt Rassmussen Day by the City of Robbinsdale.
Getting Minnesotans to move to any rhythm is usually a tall order, but Minneapolis spoken word artist Magdalena Kaluza says not for Audio Perm. Audio Perm is a coalition of Twin Cities hip hop producers who supply the beats and soundscapes for a host of local rappers. The group will be holding "Permed Out Showcase #2" at the Cabooze on Friday, June 29. Magdalena says it's a chance for the beatmakers to show some love for the emcees they work with, including Art School Girls, Bobby Raps, and Fresh Squeeze.
Art Hounds is powered by the Public Insight Network.(1 Comments)
The hounds have unearthed an intergenerational hip hop choreographer's evening, a St. Paul poet who's encouraging African-American artists to take control of their image and a Minneapolis indie folk band with Duluthian roots whose sound is reminiscent of the region it was born in.
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As a black artist, Bianca Pettis, one half of the Minnesota sound collage duo Beatrix Jar, often feels under-represented in the media. Bianca is an enthusiastic supporter of St. Paul poet Chaun Webster's mission to help African-American artists bring a more accurate, nuanced depiction of black culture into the mainstream. Webster will read his poems on Saturday, June 23, at 7pm, at The Bindery Projects, an alternative exhibition space in St. Paul.
Minneapolis songwriter and composer Mankwe Ndosi predicts people who go to Rooted: A Hip Hop Choreographer's Evening, will be rejuvenated by the multi-generational energy that's in the room. The event, at Patrick's Cabaret in Minneapolis on June 22 and 23 at 7:30pm, features seasoned and emerging hip hop choreographers trying to take their style of dance to a new level.
Brandy Dutoit, creator of "365 Music project" blog, calls the Minneapolis indie folk band Portage one of the best new local groups of the year. Brandy hears the band's big sounding acoustic guitars and atmospheric effects and thinks of the upper Midwest. Portage is winding up a month long residency at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul on Wednesday, June 27.
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St. Paul poet Katrina Vandenberg's new collection "The Alphabet not unlike the world" takes everyday situations from life in Minnesota, like watching for deer while driving a rural road at dusk, and turns them into heart-wrenching poems about the state of the world. Vandenberg, who teaches at Hamline, will read on June 5th at Micawbers Books.
Tune in tonight to All Things Considered for an interview with Vandenberg and a look at her new collection of poems. In the meantime, here's one of them:
O, P, R, S (Eye/Mouth/Head/Tongue)
At dusk the deer appear on the highway shoulder,
more of them as the light continues to die.
Suddenly they simply are,
bare brown outlines, hesitant. I am
to scan for movement, eye-shine; my husband,
to brake when I say deer. If I say deer
are the world at dusk, barred owls -- if antlers
are trees in silhouette; if as the light goes down
we are coming out of our hiding places, on the move
to night feeding grounds, hunted, haunted,
should I say I see these things,
even if I cannot name the pine
the deer walk among, could not track
their hoof prints to the river. If the ribbon
my life moves along is thin: diner,
asphalt. The poem is older than
ochre, sienna horses inked on stone,
older than my body, can I say it?
The deer are the world at dusk.
My body cannot help but remember.
The deer cannot help bolting into the road
in front of our car. They cannot help walking
with the name we gave them
which once did not mean deer
but any untamed thing that breathes
and traces back to the Sanskrit for he perishes.
-- by Katrina Vandenberg, from her collection "The Alphabet Not Unlike the World" published by Milkweed Editions. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
The McKnight Foundation has named Minnesota poet John Caddy as the 2012 McKnight Distinguished Artist.
Over the past five decades Caddy has published several volumes of poetry infused with a deep respect for the natural world, and reflective of his Iron Range upbringing. Indeed much of his career combines poetry with environmentalism.
Poet John Caddy, 2003, Pioneer Press
A longtime educator, Caddy was one of the founders of Community Programs in the Arts and Sciences, or COMPAS. He recently retired from Hamline University, where he showed graduate students how to teach environmental education using the arts.
In 1994 Caddy suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side of his body. Yet he says his "spirit is more lively all the time." Each morning for the past several years he has combined one of his nature photos with a new poem celebrating gifts received from earth, and posted it online.
Here's one of Caddy's poems from With Mouths Open Wide:
Embers and Char
Say you're in the woods and touch
char on a pine stump that burned
a century ago, rub its hard satin,
run a palm along hollow and edge.
Char is what lets the stump last.
Suppose the char remembers glowing,
as you recall embers, how they drowse
you to lost moments of lovers
hunkered to fires--tendon and gleam,
sheen of scar, a throat's apple,
the sweet belly crease.
Coals sing their heat, glow floats
scale to scale on changed wood,
shifts white, with a breath shifts red.
So we burn. Admit morning, the cold fire pit,
ash that forgets the shapes it lived.
There are still charred shoulders
and knobs, the bones remembering skin.
Char lets us last. Sure there's smoke and eye-sting.
Lift out of the wind. Bless the fire.
Now in its 15th year, the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award recognizes individual Minnesota artists who have made significant contributions to the quality of the state's cultural life, and includes a $50,000 cash award. The McKnight Foundation will honor Caddy at a private reception later this year.
Note: Embers and Char appears courtesy of John Caddy's publisher, Milkweed Editions.(3 Comments)
Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with some amazing people in the Twin Cities arts community: Painter Ta-coumba Aiken, writer Carolyn Holbrook, storyteller Beverly Cottman, musician Douglas Ewart, artist/set-designer Seitu Jones and poet Louis Alemayehu.
I'll be posting more on that conversation at a later date, but in passing Alemayehu mentioned that one of his poems has been getting a fair bit of attention online, and he's now getting requests from the other side of the globe for translations.
No wonder: this reading is truly a performance, filled with big ideas. Alemayehu takes on the state of the world, and dreams of something better. When you have the time - it's just under 12 minutes long - check it out.(1 Comments)
The Guthrie Theater has announced its 50th season. The 2012-2013 line-up features a Pulitzer-Prize winning work, two Shakespeare productions by an all-male British company, and three newly-commissioned plays.
It also includes the Guthrie's first-ever staging of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night."
Playwright Christopher Hampton
Image courtesy Guthrie Theater
This September, the Guthrie will launch a several weeks-long celebration of the work of British playwright, screenwriter and director, Christopher Hampton. Hampton is author of such plays as "The Talking Cure," and was more recently nominated for a best screenplay Oscar for "Atonement."
Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling says part of the celebration will feature Hampton's play "Tales from Hollywood," and "Appomattox," which looks at America from the Civil War to the Civil Rights period.
Here's an outsider, looking at American history and American culture in different ways, and I think it'll be very interesting for our audience to compare and contrast what Christopher has done. So we like the idea of using all three theaters to celebrate a particular writer, and in this instance it's a major international writer, Christopher Hampton.
Dowling says in its 50th season, the theater continues its mission of enlivening the classics, providing relevant modern plays and commissioning new work.
Mark Rylance, quoting Duluth poet Louis Jenkins in his Tony acceptance speech
The upcoming Guthrie season will also include re-staging a 2010 Yale Repertory Theatre production of "The Servant of Two Masters," starring Minneapolis actor Steven Epp, and a play about ice fishing co-written by Tony Award winning actor Mark Rylance and Minnesota poet Louis Jenkins.
This is an example of the wonderful relationships that happen here when somebody like Mark Rylance comes. He came to do "Peer Gynt" some years ago and when he was here he became interested in the work of Louis Jenkins, the Minnesota poet. And since he was here, Mark has won two Tony awards for work he's done in New York city. On both occasions instead of thanking everybody all and sundry the way that people do at these award ceremonies, he has recited a prose poem by Louis Jenkins, causing dismay among the audience generally because they don't know what the hell is going on. So, he's become quite friendly with Louis Jenkins and they together have developed this piece.
Dowling says the play, which is called "Nice Fish," is set on a lake on the last day of the ice fishing season.
They muse on life and on all kinds of things that people who are out on an iced over lake would muse on, and all kinds of strange and bizarre things happen during the course of this play. It's a delightful, offbeat, wry kind of comic piece. And to have Mark Rylance back and on our stage and to also have Louis Jenkins here, it'll be a lot of fun.
The Guthrie will celebrate its 50th anniversary in May, 2013.
Yesterday on the Daily Circuit host Kerri Miller interviewed Mary Bly, who has penned a memoir of her year in Paris under the pseudonym Eloisa James.
MPR Photo/Stephanie Curtis
Bly, the daughter of poet Robert Bly and writer Carol Bly, says while she had other plans for her time in Paris, she ended up writing the memoir in part because she wanted to capture those fleeting, precious moments
It was a year in which I thought a great deal about memory, and about what we lose as our memories go. I was thinking about my family, and losing my mother. So I wanted to capture the year...
When asked about the current health of her father, who suffers from Alzheimer's, Bly responded:
You know he's very happy. So... not very happy but he's happy. So I'm very grateful that he's not experienced the personality changes that sometimes accompany that sort of loss. But it's sad, it's very very hard for someone whose life is made up of looking at a tree and turning it into a poem - so your whole life flows by you in words - to not be able to manipulate words is a terrible thing.
For a good part of my childhood my dad was working on short prose poetry. And he used to make us - the children had to do it along with him! Our dinners were often made up of impromptu poetry readings. So in a way this was my tribute year to him, too, because that's the kind of writing he did when I was growing up. He worked very hard on very small sets of words.
...My stepmother was talking about watching a video of him - and he sparked with ideas all the time - and he hasn't lost his sense of humor so he said "I like that guy!" And then he said "I wish I knew him." So it was very hard for my step-mother in that moment. But he's both recognizing what's happening - his sense of humor is not gone at all - and acknowledging that life has different phases.
Todd Boss grew up on eighty-acre cattle farm in central Wisconsin. He received his MFA in poetry from the University of Alaska-Anchorage. His first collection, Yellowrocket, was a Midwest Booksellers' Choice Awards Honor Book. He'll celebrate the launch of his second book, Pitch, this Wednesday at the Loft Literary Center at 7pm. Here's one of his poems from the new collection.
-- eaten right
off the jackknife in
I spent as my dad's
jobsite grunt, framing
houses out of 2x4s
brief and silent pick-
up tailgate lunch-
box lunch breaks
of link sausage,
larder pickles, cold
wrapped in paper,
a couple of pippins
from the Fall Crick
Pick 'n Save, and --
flavored of tin from
the lip of the cup
of a dented thermos
passed between us--
a hard-earned share
of still-chill well
so many waned and
waxed moons later,
bred paper-pusher, I
wonder that I've never
labored harder, nor
- "Apple Slices," by Todd Boss, as it appears in his collection Pitch, published by W. W. Norton & Company. Reprinted here with permission of the author.
Winner of the 2009 Minnesota Book Award for National Monuments (Michigan State University Press), Heid Erdrich has authored four books of poetry and co-edited Sister Nations: Native American Women on Community, an anthology. Since 2007, Heid has worked with American Indian visual artists as an arts advocate and a curator. In 2010 she founded Wiigwaas Press to publish Ojibwe language books. Heid's current project is a cookbook from the indigenous food movement in Minnesota. Her latest volume of poetry is Cell Traffic: New and Selected Poems.
Own Your Own: Cellular Changes
Tiny robot tools remove
what doesn't work in me.
Blue masks, gas, and a moment's glimpse
of a many-armed machine.
The healers anthropologists
called sucking doctors
could pull poison from the body
in the form of feathered frogs, hunks of fat, bone,
or arrow points or stone --
never leaving more than a scratch.
The robot doctors work like that as they
clear me, clean me, delete what's gone
crazy with my code --
never again to worry me, those
vaguely threatening cellular changes
to the smooth pink insides of imagination
where we expect our innards to work
in static and indifferent forms.
Except the womb, the best of us, the hot water bottle,
that one red organ we can make do for us,
the studio apartment where we
make the best of small spaces, make a home.
When it all goes wrong, we fix it. We give ourselves over in faith.
Blue masks, gas, and a moment's glimpse
of a many-armed machine shaking rattles
and singing before reaching in me.
I wake up without memory,
thin purple line of incision, a thirst, and a word:
S.H.-H.E. in sharp marker on my belly, indelible initials
so the doctors beyond the robot doctors,
knew, in the moment they cut
I was theirs, I was me.
From Cell Traffic: New and Selected Poems by Heid E. Erdrich © 2012 Heid E. Erdrich. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.(2 Comments)
It never hurts to have your name in the New York Times, and if it's in the form of a positive review it's a huge boost.
Minneapolis poet Bao Phi's new collection "Song I Sing" (Coffee House Press) was one of three new poetry books reviewed by Dana Jennings in the Times.
"In this strong and angry work of what he calls refugeography," Jennings writes, "Bao Phi, who has been a performance poet since 1991, wrestles with immigration, class and race in America at sidewalk level. To hip-hop beats and the squeal and shriek of souped-up Celicas stalking the city streets, he rants and scowls at a culture in which Asians are invisible, but also scolds his peers 'Bleached by color-blind lies/Buying DKNY and Calvin Klein/So our own bodies are gentrified.'"
The critic finishes, "In this song of his very American self, every poem Mr. Phi writes rhymes with the truth."
Posted at 12:57 PM on November 28, 2011
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Minnesota Poets
Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen kindly read a number of her poems for the profile which ran on Morning Edition last week.
Here is one which is from her most recent collection "First Words" which neatly captures the sentiments many parents feel about eldest children.
Want to hear more? There are three poems in their entirety on the story page.
Sutphen grew up on a farm in Minnesota. She earned a PhD in Renaissance drama from the University of Minnesota, and has taught British literature and creative writing at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota. Her books of poetry include Straight Out of View, Coming Back to the Body, Naming the Stars, Fourteen Sonnets, and most recently, First Words.
Here's a poem from First Words that seemed fitting for the Thanksgiving holiday:
The Kingdom of Summer
In my mother's cellar there were
realms of golden apple, rooms
of purple beet, hallways of green bean
leading to windows of
strawberry and grape.
In her cellar there were
cider seas and
mountains of tomatoes -
When I walked down the steps
and pulled on the light,
I saw where she kept the
Kingdom of Summer.
- "The Kingdom of Summer" by Joyce Sutphen, as it appears in her collection First Words, published by Red Dragonfly Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Lee was raised in South Korea, North Dakota and Minnesota. He's been everything from a bartender to a phys ed instructor, to a journalist and a translator. Lee's first book Real Karaoke People was the winner of an Asian American Literary Award and the PEN Open Book Award.
Usually I only post poems here that are relatively short, and have no profanity in them. Lee's poem "If in America" made me break both those rules.
If in America
Hmong Hunter Charged With 6 Murders
Is Said to Be a Shaman--New York Times
If a tree falls in a forest,
does it make a sound?
If a rifle fires a shot in the woods,
whose body first hits the ground?
If a group of angry hunters
surrounds, curses at, and accosts you
for wandering onto their land
If you apologize for being lost,
inform you saw no posted signs, swallow
their chinks this and gooks taking over that;
are walking away over mud and fallen leaves when a loud
crack far behind you kicks up black earth
If your father was conscripted to fight
on the side of the United States
for the CIA during the war in Vietnam
If he, your mother, you--the oldest son--
and all your younger siblings were later abandoned
in the hills of Laos as targets for genocide by the Viet Cong
If after five years in a Thai refugee camp,
you come to this land as a teen, a casualty
of history and time, then receive three years
of training to become a sharpshooter
in the u.s. military
If you spent your adolescence watching blacks,
Asians, Latinos, and whites watching one
another watch each other for weakness and flaws
If, after this first blast, you wheel
around in a bright orange vest; glimpse
in that split second an angry, possibly
inebriated man lowering or resighting his rifle
If, in that icy moment, you recall
the Native friend you used to collect cans with;
once watched his three-hundred-pound father
unload himself from a Chevy Impala and chase
the boy down University with a ball-peen hammer
If, of your own children, your quietest
son lately lacks the wherewithal at school
to defend himself; and your oldest daughter
has always been for some inexplicable reason
ashamed of you
If hunting for you is not just a sport;
never a time to drink beers
with friends in a cabin, but rather
is a factor in considering your family's winter protein consumption
If you believe in God, but not the good in everyone
If you hate to think about this s***, because
why the f*** is it always on you
to preprove your loyalty and innocence?
If--frightened for your life and
the livelihood of your immediate and extended
family--in that split second, you reel
and train your own gun back at the far face
of that vapory barrel now aiming at your own
If, yes, you are sometimes angry and so look forward
to escaping your truck driver's life on certain
designated dates, on certain designated
lands, not always clearly demarcated, but always clearly stolen
from the ancestors of fat drunk red men
so confused they chase their own firey songs
in the form of their sons
Stolen from generations of skewed black backs,
hunched your whole life on street corners laughing
and picking their bones
Stolen from the paychecks of your brown coworker
social security ghosts
Stolen like your own people
from mountains in one land
only to be resettled and resented here
in projects and tenements
If you barely finished high school, but you know
from all you've ever seen of this system
Might Makes Right,
and excuses, treaties, and cover-ups
appear the only true code inscribed on most white men's souls
If, after such slurs, pushes, and threats in these woods
it is now also on you to assess
if that far rifle still locked on your face
just issued a mistake, a warning
shot, or murderous attempt--
and the answer is:
your military muscle fibers
If you then spot three four five six seven? other
hunters now scattering for their ATVs
and, of course--if a gook,
don't be a dumb one--
scattering now also for their weapons
If you are alone in this land,
on foot, in miles of coming snow, wind, and branches
and don't even know
in which direction you'd run
If from birth you've seen
what men with guns, knives,
and bombs are capable of doing
for reasons you never wanted to understand
If in this very same county's court of all-white
witnesses, counsel, judge, and jurors
it will forever be your word against theirs
because there was no forensic testimony
over who shot first
If, yes, sometimes you can hear voices,
not because you're insane, but
in your culture
you are a shaman, a spiritual healer,
though in this very different land
of goods and fears, your only true worth
seems to be as a delivery man and soldier
If, upon that first fateful exchange in these woods,
your instinct, pushing pin to
balloon, were to tell you it's now
either you and your fatherless family of fourteen,
or all of them
Would you set your rifle down;
hope the right, the decent,
the fair thing on this buried American soil
Or would you stay low,
one knee cold, and do
precisely as your whole life
and history have trained?
And if you did,
would anyone even care
what really happened
eight bodies plummeted
to earth like deer?
- "If in America" by Ed Bok Lee, from his collection of poetry Whorled, published by Coffee House Press. Reprinted here with the permission of the publisher.
FYI, Coffee House Press is celebrating the release of both Whorled and Bao Phi's collection Sông I Sing on September 24 at the Minneapolis Central Library. That day happens to mark "100 Poets for Change," an international celebration of poetry to promote serious social, environmental, and political change.(1 Comments)
(Image courtesy Poetry Foundation)
More details later, but Governor Mark Dayton just named Joyce Sutphen of Chaska Minnesota's new poet laureate. She is a Professor of English at Gustavus Adolphus in St Peter. Published by Red Dragonfly Press, her poems have appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Minnesota Monthly, North Dakota Review, and many other journals, and she has been a guest on A Prairie Home Companion.(11 Comments)
"Eww" argues Roy Blount Jr., is the universal sound of disgust. So how does that affect our reaction to words that contain that sound, like "cutie" and "beautiful?"
Author Roy Blount Jr.
(Photo courtesy Joan Griswald)
Blount's recent talk at the Hennepin County library is filled with such questions and interesting tidbits, which break words down into their component parts.
The humorist and word lover talks about everything from Mark Twain's friendship with Helen Keller (brought about by the sound "MMM"), to stepping on a friend's hamster and how the experience revealed so much about the word "squelch."
Midday recently rebroadcast Blount's talk, which you can listen to by clicking on the audio link below.
This Friday poets and performers are gathering to remember one of their own.
Photo: Liz Welch
Poet Roy McBride died July 29 at the age of 67, after suffering from Alzheimer's for two years. He leaves behind a legacy of education and community activism that touched many lives.
In The Heart of the Beast, where McBride once worked, is hosting a celebration of McBride's life, featuring many of the people he influenced. Performers include:
J Otis Powell!
In addition, there will be a memorial service for McBride on September 16, 4pm at Friends Meeting House, located at 44th & York in Minneapolis.
You can also read a lovely remembrance of McBride here, which includes several of his poems.
Bao Phi is a nationally known performance poet living in the Twin Cities. While he's performed for years, and has released two CDs of his spoken word, he's just published his first book of poetry through Coffee House Press. It's titled Sông I Sing.
Waiting for a Cyclo in the Hood
Twenty-Sixth Street, a one-way,
flows by my house, keeps going right
out of the hood before spilling into
Uptown: fertile delta of the young,
disturbingly hip, rich by no fault of their own,
nothing to do on a Saturday night but be beautiful.
I sit on the curb, far from lovely,
empty pocket's distance from rich,
wishing I knew
which way to go.
Back in Viet Nam I could
shout for a cyclo, hold up a fist of small đống
peel each dollar from the tension of my hand
and let them fly away to the Dopplar Effect,
one by one,
scream the words to Prince's 1999 in two languages
and not once look behind me to see if the driver was whispering:
this street is one way, I can't take you back
to where you came from, no matter how many American
dollar bills you give up
to the wind.
- "Waiting for a Cyclo in the Hood," written by Bao Phi, as it appears in his collection of poetry Sông I Sing, published by Coffee House Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Sun Yung Shin's first book of poems Skirt Full of Black (Coffee House Press) received the Asian American Literary Award for Poetry in 2008. She is the co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption (South End Press) and the author of bilingual Korean/English illustrated book for children Cooper's Lesson (Children's Book Press). Sun Yung has taught writing at the University of Minnesota, the College of St. Catherine, the Loft Literary Center and elsewhere in the community.
Her next book of poems, Rough, and Savage, is forthcoming from Coffee House Press in fall 2012.
That Came to be Split into a Plurality
That we each have a number assigned to us
Thanks be to the devil for the idea of sequence
That we each have forgotten our numbers
Thanks be to the gods for a child's memory
That we each have a name, or three, assigned to us
Thanks be to the devil for sound marrying sense
That we each have forgotten the way to our house, apartment, farm
Thanks be to angels for the scent of chrysanthemums
That we each were the consequence of war, poverty, illness, death, despair or hope
Thanks be to each other for what we call society
That we each will be buried with the bodies of our mothers
Thanks be to the stars for the constancy of matter that cannot be destroyed
That we each will be buried with the bodies of our fathers
Thanks be to the metal that will unskin the world
-- "That Came to be Split into a Plurality" in Skirt Full of Black, by Sun Yung Shin (Coffee House Press, 2007). Reprinted with permission from Coffee House Press.
Mark Rylance accepts the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for "Jerusalem" during the 65th annual Tony Awards, Sunday, June 12, 2011 in New York. (Jeff Christensen / AP)
Actor Mark Rylance has a thing for Minnesota poet Louis Jenkins.
Three years ago, whilst accepting a Tony award for his part in "Boeing-Boeing," he quoted Jenkins' poem "The Back Country."
Last night, in accepting the award for leading actor in the production "Jerusalem" he quoted Jenkins' poem "Walking Through A Wall."
The New York Times tried to get an explanation for the choice:
Asked after his victory why he chose to share Mr. Jenkins's thoughts about the art of "walking through walls," Mr. Rylance said, "I just think it's good advice."
However, if you take a look at Jenkins' website, you'll see this tidbit:
Louis Jenkins is currently working with Mark Rylance, actor and former director of the Globe Theatre, London, on a stage production titled Nice Fish! based on Mr. Jenkins poems.
By the way, you can hear Jenkins recite "Walking Through a Wall" in its entirety at his website.
Alex Lemon is the author of Happy: A Memoir (Scribner), the poetry collections Mosquito (Tin House Books), Hallelujah Blackout (Milkweed Editions), Fancy Beasts (Milkweed Editions), and the chapbook At Last Unfolding Congo (horse less press). He was awarded a 2005 Literature Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts and a 2006 Minnesota Arts Board Grant. He co-edits LUNA: A Journal of Poetry and Translation with Ray Gonzalez and frequently writes book reviews. He now lives in Fort Worth, Texas and teaches at Texas Christian University.
Souvenirs from the Unraveling
The owner's manual mother gave me
Taught me everything I needed to know
Up to this point, so I didn't realize
It was too late until they phoned
About organ donation. Then came the dull
Ache of heartburn. Then the parade of mice.
I tried to rid myself of the infestation
By walking miles with a sandwich board.
I wished everyone a terrific stay.
Cars passed, horns honked wildly.
Many folks gave me the finger.
One woman pulled down her top.
But I am a waver, and I smiled, gave
Her the thumbs up. I sat next to a brick wall
Painted with wet graffiti. Kiss, it said
In big orange letters. I thought, this is cool,
But the letters were so fat and squished together,
It might have said kill. This was very sad,
So I stared into the sun to erase the memory.
This is what they do in movies and really good books.
Actually, the stride was the sort of flapping
Dance heated ribosomes do under microscopes.
I remembered this from Sunday school
Or an infomercial about knives.
Needless to say, the day was furious
With flashbacks. The concrete grew condensation,
I stepped in never-ending piles of gum.
My favorites were purple and tasted like grape
Or the Van Gogh I licked repeatedly as a child.
Nightfall and I was at the shore with a number
Of half-scratched lotto tickets and a very old
Burrito. This is my sort of magic, I reflected,
Squawking melodies from my kazoo.
But it was time to say hello again to the many things
I had said good-bye to. I blew a tornado
Of kisses to friends-sand crabs,
The gutter worms. I wished the others -
All the floating diapers and Depends,
The sweetest of dreams. I spoke my prayers
to the yummy and listened to the pounding waves
Jibber-jabber that even after today,
There was all of endless tomorrow to go.
- "Souvenirs from the Unraveling" in Hallelujah Blackout by Alex Lemon (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by Alex Lemon. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.
The winners of this year's Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk have been announced. Five winners were selected from 584 submissions. I could just choose one to share this week, but they're short, so why not share all five? Enjoy! Soon these poems will be coming to a sidewalk near you...
I can't remember
all the flowers she taught me.
Her pansies worry.
by Michael Murphy
Four feet tall and poised,
glove on, front row, third base line,
yearning for the foul.
by Michael Russelle
When the door claps its frame
the goat runs as if I were
bringing the world instead
Of rotting squash. His
strong teeth search
for me more-‐ gently
As if he couldn't bear to know-‐
that one world is all I have
to feed him
and one is not enough.
by Sara Clark
by Lillian Rupp
Love of Hockey
Life magazines for shin guards.
Skates too big, stick cracked and old,
jacket patched and tattered.
I ignored the smirks and winter's cold,
love of hockey was all that mattered.
by Louis DiSanto
Congratulations to all the winners! You can read the five poems that won honorable mentions here.
This week MN Original profiles the St. Paul spoken word team, two-time champions of the National Poetry Slam. Spoken word artist Guante talks about the thrill of "killing a poem" in front of an audience.
There's no rush like that - I've played sports for a long time and there's no rush like killing a poem... A poetry slam is both an art and a sport. It's a little bit of poetry, a little bit of stand-up comedy, a little bit of rhetoric, a little bit of hip-hop possibly, all these different vocal forms, a lot of theater, too.
One of the most beautiful things about spoken word is it allows you to tell the story of either yourself or people you know when those stories don't always get told. A fundamental tenet of slam poetry is that everybody has a story.
As part of the show Guante performs an excerpt from his piece "Cartpusher" - here's the entire piece:
This week's episode also features a captivating profile of book plate artist Serik Kulmeshkenov.
Todd Boss and Angella Kassube are on to something big.
Boss - a poet - and Kassube - a designer/animator - have created what they call "motionpoems." They're using poems as the scripts for animated shorts. The results are otherworldly:
It started out with just Kassube animating Boss' poetry, but it's expanding to something much bigger; they're connecting filmmakers with poets from around the world. Their goal is to increase the audience for poetry by turning them into compelling short films.
Up until now it's been a volunteer project, but Motionpoems has signed on to animate 12-15 poems to accompany Scribner's 2011 Best American Poetry anthology and is looking to pay participants a stipend for their work.
Euan Kerr reported on the Motionpoems project a while back - you can read that here.
You can see more poetry in motion here. What do you think? Are you a traditionalist, or do you think animating poetry in order to draw in a younger crowd is a good idea?(1 Comments)
Éireann Lorsung's poetry reflects a love of craft; not just the craft of poetry, but her love of textiles, dressmaking, and paper. Lorsung's artistic talents are not limited to being a wordsmith; she also used to have her own line of clothing and now creates prints and drawings. Lorsung was born in Minneapolis and earned in MFA in writing and her BAs in English and Japanese from the University of Minnesota. You can find out more about Lorsung at her website, ohbara.com.
The Way to Really Love It
Touch the edge of salt pond with a finger. Maps
don't show the taste of water.
You can know
what cows eat by tang in butter, and here
what swims, what stays away
tells saltiness. If you wade
hip deep in these ponds, maybe
something will begin
or something will stop happening.
Places like this
are dying off. Between land & ocean,
you stop thinking of it and it's gone.
lack of birds. Pitch pine. A bog quaking
to life, with life, you had better
listen to this disappearing land, you had better
be quick, keep it trimmed,
- "The Way to Really Love It" in music for landing planes by by Éireann Lorsung (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Éireann Lorsung. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.
Wang Ping was born in Shanghai and grew up on a small island in the China Sea. After three years of field work on a rural commune, she attended Beijing University. In 1985, she left the People's Republic of China to study in the United States, and earned her Ph.D. from New York University. She's the author of numerous collections of short stories and poetry, including "The Last Communist Virgin" and "The Magic Whip." She teaches at Macalester College.
She walks to a table
She walk to table
She is walking to a table
She walk to table now
What difference does it make
What difference it make
In Nature, no completeness
No sentence really complete thought
Language, like woman
Look best when free, undressed
- "Syntax," by Wang Ping, as it appears in her poetry collection Of Flesh Spirit, published by Coffee House Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Kathryn Kysar is the author of Dark Lake, a book of poetry, and editor of Riding Shotgun: Women Write About Their Mothers, a collection of essays. Her newest book of poetry Pretend the World, was published earlier this year by Holy Cow! Press. Kysar teaches at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. She lives with her family in St. Paul. You can find out about her upcoming readings here.
St. Paul, 2002
At the grocery store,
the moms of Highland Park
in hastily-pulled ponytails bend
under the weight of the car seats
holding well-fed babies, struggle
to control their straying toddlers.
Stuffing bundled babies into carts,
we babble bright words, only hint
at the shadows that gather in our days:
He's having a bit of trouble toilet training.
In the checkout line, your children whining,
her tired eyes meet yours and say,
It is not your fault.
But the baby hasn't been bathed,
the preschooler watched TV
while, in a sleepless haze,
you stumbled around the house -
laundry, breakfast, wastebaskets,
mail, phone calls, laundry -
unable to focus, prioritize.
The eyes of the grocery store manager
skip over your unwashed hair, your
postpartem body. You are invisible;
you are a checkbook, a credit card,
the major household shopper.
Sometimes, when you do get a chance
to catch the sleep that eludes you,
you think in the dark about
the untidy house, the weeds in the garden,
the fallen flowers crushed by last night's rain.
All the faults in this little world are yours,
the foundation cracking under the weight of the house,
the weight of the family, the weight you cannot carry.
- "Faultlines" by Kathryn Kysar, as it appears in her collection of poetry Pretend The World, published by Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Lightsey Darst won the Minnesota Book Award this past Saturday for her debut collection of poems "Find the Girl." In addition to her poetry, you can often find her writing about dance for mnartists.org and Mpls-St.Paul magazine, or see her dancing on stage herself. She also runs the writing salon "The Works" at Bryant Lake Bowl.
[Follow the red silk thread]
Beautiful as a plum, my girl--
& just as keen to be bitten.
Mother will you keep her in
On a vase she tumbles into the arms of the god
of underneath: "he will crown me in granite & ruby"
Sweet thing, you have made it all simpler
& more brightly colored,
lovely through your kaleidoscope,
Do you think
I went too far, the dead girl whispers, her nails
scraping down your window, her skinless smile--
The sister: You will take, take, eat.
"She stepped into the clear trap,
she picked the wrong rose, alarms
of bees & earth
swallowed her whole."
Yes. Persephone you plummet, no one smiling as he lifts
his iron sickle your braids falling in wheat heaps
- "Follow the red silk thread" by Lightsey Darst, as it appears in her collection of poems Find the Girl, published by Coffee House Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
James Armstrong is the author of Blue Lash, a collection of poems that examines the power and allure of Lake Superior. The book is divided into three parts: "North of Duluth," "Isle Royale," and "South Shore." Author Louis Jenkins wrote of Armstrong's work: "These poems have the handcrafted precision of a wooden skiff built by a master boatbuilder, rugged and durable yet light, quick, and capable of covering great distances." Armstrong is currently a professor of English at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota.
I'm thinking about your
coiled hose and muddy trowel.
You like the way the bean sprouts lift
their swan necks above the crumbled soil,
the way the squash blossoms
open their saffron cotillions.
It's like the way, when you talk to horses
their ears swivel, delicate periscopes,
and their humid gaze turns in your direction.
So much power, welded to gentleness,
so much gentleness, welded to power -
little insistent threads of seedlings
a single frost might blacken.
By midsummer, they are a solid wall.
- "Kentucky Wonders" in Blue Lash by James Armstrong (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2006). Copyright © 2006 by James Armstrong. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.
Dobby Gibson is the author of two books of poetry: Polar, (Alice James Books, 2004) and Skirmish (Graywolf Press, 2009). He lives in Minneapolis.
What It Feels Like to Be This Tall
Not one of my costumes is believable.
I'm constantly away on business.
The morning, chiropractic, saddles me
beneath its colossal gravity.
In search of a breath, kneeling at the shallows,
the minnows scatter.
Wind farms hum atop the prairie.
Wilt Chamberlain's bones groan from their earthen locker.
In my most private thoughts,
radio signals from distant lands
argue invisibly over static,
and like an ice-cream headache,
the only thing worse than feeling this way
is not having a reason to feel this way,
hoping against hope, against nature,
versus self - I miss you all so much. Send money!
I don't have a fight song,
yet isn't that alone reason enough to fight?
Let the academics roll their eyes.
Faced with a progressively larger fork
for every subsequent course,
at some point, even my belongings began to mock me.
I couldn't eat another bite.
Whatever you love most
is just another thing for me to bonk my head on.
I can't even trust a kite.
Above the rest of you, from the back row
of my second-grade class photo,
Kristin Dahlberg and I could see giraffes migrate the Serengeti.
Our knees ached with empathy.
Their hearts were as big as basketballs.
Tribal drums called us from the distance.
The distance called us from the distance.
Soon, everything would get knocked over,
and yet we would come in peace.
-- "What It Feels Like to Be This Tall" by Dobby Gibson, from his collection of poems Skirmish. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher, Graywolf Press.
Greg Hewett is the author of four books of poetry, most recently darkacre (Coffee House Press 2010). He has received Fulbright fellowships to Denmark and Norway and is currently Associate Professor of English at Carleton College, in Northfield, Minnesota.
Under the Sun
Through the drone of mowers,
between the cries of girls jumping rope,
under the rumble of his own skateboard
the boy detects a whispering in the grass,
and in the bed of tulips he hears
a roaring like fire underground.
Yet a still deeper silence pulls him
in widening parabolas
through the blue oak shade,
makes him believe he can escape
to the ocean floor, to outer space.
- "Under the Sun," by Greg Hewett, as it appears in Red Suburb published by Coffee House Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
BILL HOLM was born to Icelandic immigrants on a farm north of Minneota, Minnesota in 1943. A long-time resident of Minneota, Holm lived with his wife Marcie and taught at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall from 1980 until he retired in 2007. He traveled widely, to Iceland on a Fulbright in 1979, and more recently to his summer home in Hofsos; and to China, where he taught on an academic exchange program in 1986 and again in 1992. The recipient of the 2008 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award, Holm is the author of several books of essays and poetry including, most recently, The Windows of Brimnes. Known both regionally and nationally as a humorist, writer, and prairie radical, Bill Holm passed away on February 26, 2009.
Schubert does go on, doesn't he?
Don't you find him a bit much?
How much wine is enough
to wash down the bread?
Is there enough water to cover
the barges under Lake Superior?
Does the sun put out too much light?
Are there enough words
in the dictionary yet?
Too many teeth in the whale's jaw?
How many beautiful women
is too many? Will the men find them?
How much Schubert is too much?
Is it far from your left ear
to the top of the Greenland ice?
How many breaths do you intend
to breathe before you die?
Do you want these questions answered?
Someone is singing a long song.
Careful! It's getting inside.
- "Heavenly Length" by Bill Holm, as it appears in his collection "The Chain Letter of the Soul" published by Milkweed Editions. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
More importantly, do you have a short poem?
This year's sidewalk poetry contest is about to get underway in St. Paul, and the city is looking for haiku, limericks and other short verse to imprint into city sidewalks.
I mean face it, isn't this the kind of publishing a poet really wants? To be virtually written in stone?
The contest is open to submissions March 15 through April 17, and there's a workshop for people interested in learning more on April 9. Five poems will be selected, and each poet will be awarded $150, as well as literary immortality (well, at least as long as the sidewalk lasts). Find out all the details here.(3 Comments)
Susan Stevens Chambers has had a family law practice for over 30 years, and now concentrates on mediation and poetry. She brings presentations to public schools and universities, churches, Kiwanis clubs, senior citizen, poetry groups, and anywhere else someone wants to hear poetry. Her poem "Weather Advisory" was a What Light Poetry Project finalist in May of last year.
It is an oatmeal sort of day.
Morning ice clings to bare branches,
trees groan under the thrust of north wind.
She dots the pan of water with raisins,
knows they will plump up her horizon,
encourage a watery sun to break
through her snowstorm,
heat the praying furrows.
She adds oats; not instant
but good old-fashioned ones
cooked soothingly for ten minutes,
filling the kitchen with steam and comfort.
She wishes to turn the day around.
She spins this last day of winter
into a hope of blackbirds,
those sparks of spring, always the first back.
They swirl up from a snow-smothered wood,
a plump black comfort
in the bowl of one last winter storm.
- "Weather Advisory" by Susan Stevens Chambers, as it appears on mnartists.org.
Roger 'Ice Man' Hanson builds a 64-foot ice castle in his backyard
"A lot of people climb mountains," he says of his peculiar hobby. "I built a mountain."
- Jessica Lussenhop
'Reader's Art 11' opening at Susan Hensel Gallery
"Reader's Art 11" will feature 65 pieces of art by 29 local, regional, and national book artists riffing on the theme "Urban/Urbane."
- Coco Mault. City Pages
Trio brings lit to life
The women behind Paper Darts, a literary arts magazine, mix style, substance and fun into a fresh and sassy stew.
- KRISTIN TILLOTSON, Star Tribune
John Munger talks about 'Renovate' and grassroots dance
This weekend the Ritz Theater presents its fourth annual choreography showcase, Renovate, featuring the work of established and emerging local artists.
- Sheila Regan, City Pages
ARENA Dances draws inspiration from the CarpentersNot only are the dancers' dynamic movements inspired by the Carpenters' music, but Janczewski's production also explores the idea of human insecurities, brought forward by the complicated relationship between Karen Carpenter and her brother Richard, and her struggle with an eating disorder that eventually claimed her life.
- Shelby Meyers, City Pages
Vile men: The art of Vincent Stall, and Nicolas Cage in 'Drive Angry'
- Max Sparber, MinnPost.com
From Basquiat to Berlin
Artist-turned-director Julian Schnabel will visit the Walker for a retrospective of his films starting Friday.
- COLIN COVERT, Star Tribune
Oak Street Cinema destruction approved by unanimous vote of the Heritage Preservation CommissionIn their recommendation, city staff recommended demolition with the condition that certain mitigations be followed, including documentation that would be sent to various institutions, and salvaging of the marquee and original light fixtures, which the representative for the owner said they have found a buyer for.
- Sheila Regan, TC Daily Planet
Second Annual Cuban Film Festival raises the curtain on our embargoed neighbor
An interview with Greg Klave, the festival curator.
- Jim Brunzell III, The Optimistic Pessimist
Red House founder Greg Brown to release album on Yep Roc
There's no word yet on Brown's status with Red House, the influential St. Paul-based acoustic label.
- Jon Bream, Star Tribune
Asobi Seksu and BRAHMS bring drama and sweep to the 7th Street Entry
The close, dark venue was an incongruous fit for the sweeping sounds of Asobi Seksu and BRAHMS, who shared a bill on Tuesday night.
- Jay Gabler, TC Daily Planet
'Hair' raises right questions
The revival at the Orpheum is engaging and evocative.
- ROHAN PRESTON, Star Tribune
'Hair': Touring production is all about superficial style and shine
The show looks and sounds like a million bucks, but its soul is as thin as a dime.
- Dominic P. Papatola, Pioneer Press
'Hair' has body, and even a bit of soul
Near the end of the first act, the action snapped into place.
- Ed Huyck, City Pages
Hair Makes an Emancipation Proclamation at the Orpheum Theater
If there ever was a weapon for peace-lovers, HAIR is that weapon.
Michelle Alimoradi, Examiner.com
Hair at the Orpheum
Hair is essentially a revue; the story material simply provides a structure on which the songs are hung. Overlong? Possibly, but who cares. The music is terrific and the Tribe handles it gorgeously.
- John Olive, Howwastheshow.com
Big names for a new season at Park Square
Big, recognizable titles will be all over the marquee at St. Paul's Park Square Theatre next season.
- Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press
Unexpectedly subversive: 'Hair' at the Orpheum; Latte Da's 'Song of Extinction'
- Max Sparber, MinnPost.com
Poets tend to be a modest, covert lot. They walk amongst us, and yet we may have no idea who they are. Case in point: I've known MPR reporter/producer Sasha Aslanian for 18 years, but only discovered this week that she's a poet. Did she tell me? No - I stumbled across one of her poems on the St. Paul Sidewalk Poetry website. It turns out her words are imprinted in cement in nearly a dozen locations around town. I guess good poets just let their poetry speak for itself.
we notice them in the yard
our first spring
a couple searching to build
mud and snarls of straw
over the back door
sacred blue eggs inside
next year they come back
and choose the front door
then the garage
we never dismantle the
safe places of ten springs
- "the robins" by Sasha Aslanian, as imprinted in the sidewalks of St. Paul. Reprinted here with permission from the author. You can read Aslanian's poem - once the snow melts - at these locations.
Richard Eberhart was born in Austin, MN in 1904 and lived for 101 years. During that time he held many jobs but he was first and foremost a poet, serving as the Library of Congress' "Consultant in Poetry" (the earlier title for National Poet Laureate) from 1959-61.
Perhaps it was his mother's early death that gave him such a zest for life; he attended the University of Minnesota to be with her until she died, then transferred to Dartmouth. after graduating from Dartmouth he traveled the world - working on a tramp steamer - and pursued a second degree at Cambridge University. He served as a naval officer in World War II, worked for his wife's family at the Butcher Polish Company for several years, and taught at a number of universities, including his alma mater. He died in 2005 at his home in New Hampshire.
21st Century Man
Finally, he decided there was too much pain,
The hurt of everything.
In youth it was not knowing,
In middle age it was knowing,
In age it was not knowing.
He couldn't figure it out.
Would 21st century man do better
Or 21st century woman do better either?
The tides were always going in or out,
But what was the meaning of the ocean?
People were either growing up or growing down.
He decided to live for sensual reality,
Pure feeling. After this failed
He decided to espouse pure intelligence.
This never told him why he had to die.
He then decided to go to the Church
But after the supreme fiction of Christ
He thought Buddha and Mohamet had something to say.
Neither sense, intellect, nor religion
Told him why he was born or had to die
So he began to pay attention to poetry.
Non-suicidal, he desired to make something.
He decided the greatest thing was a perfect poem.
If he could make it he would be glad to live.
The brutal fact, dear reader, as you
Might suspect, is that he did not make it.
Somebody else made his perfect poem imperfect.
- "21st Century Man" by Richard Eberhart, as it appears in The Poets Laureate Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt, and published by W.W. Norton. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Terri Ford is the author of "Why the Ships are She" and "Hams Beneath the Firmament." She was profiled in June of 2004 in the Minneapolis newspaper City Pages as one of five Minnesota poets who might be the state Poet Laureate if Minnesota had one. She currently lives in triumph in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she hopes to change at least the lipstick on the face of Minnesota poetry.
Hovering insectile love. Fretful love, every
two mile check-up love, nerve pill rope-end indecisive highly
diagnostic love. Bracing love. Speedy
love. Medieval leeching what ho troubadour head-
lopping dulcimer lost
ark love. Manifesto
love. Give up the throne
love. Love as truce. Tectonic plate
rearrangement love. Ultimatum bad
dog love. Ziplock
suffocation love. Bottom
feeder plankton love. Trophy preener
improvement love. Pink pluming
hope burning diary teen
reversion love. Blurt
out love. Perpendicular
gridlock love, hall
monitor love, detention love. Bad
press love. Half-Nelson Gladiator
headlock uncle you say it blood-
spitting hard-breathing down
for count head
injury love. Log-rolling jolly
motion river gusto wet and
galvanized love. Sympathetic
Red Cross love. Sinatra, Iglesias, Don Ho, Yo-
Yo, Dvorák, Monk Chant, Yanni love. Not entirely
believable love. Wild
love, burned at the stake love, iron
lung love, bone marrow pacemaker
toupee love. Love in remission,
amputee love, Federal Witness
Protection love, in hiding subtext
Morse Code spy love. Revisionist
love. Open book test
love. Boundless applause in the front
row love. AFrican trumpeting large
flap love. Stealth Bomber
love. Slow me down
love. Keyhole light
bird's egg love. Name it to
your face love, woke
up love, count on it
stouthearted no-leak no-fault
high octane 911 in the daylight unashamed
lon haul fearful but right here intergalactic
- "Valentine" from Where the Ships Are She by Terri Ford. Reprinted with permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.
N.M. Kelby is the author of White Truffles in Winter: A Novel, Travel Guide for Reckless Hearts, Whale Season, In the Company of Angels, Theater of the Stars and The Constant Art of Being a Writer: The Life, Art & Business of Fiction. As we make our way toward Valentine's Day, here's her poem "The Honeymoon."
The asphalt is lava.
We lie around on single beds with blue light TV tans.
The curtains are pulled. We are watching a game show.
Bob Barker is beautiful, frightening.
He is our prophet.
The motor court is as lovely as it should be.
There is a housewife who wants door number 3.
We are feeling gracious as she wins the fur coat,
It is something we do not need.
Our past is before us.
The wedding gown, anemic,
A peacock gone pale,
Is hanging in the closet.
Even now, it gathers dust.
Black patent shoes, like crows, hungry,
Are as ambiguous as any still life.
We do not care.
It is done. Finally done.
The future sleeps, fitful as a child.
We are too old for more than the current moment.
We flash our smiles, our pina colada smiles.
The ice machine spits forth water diamonds.
We have it all now.
It's all behind the curtain.
- "The Honeymoon" by N.M. Kelby, reprinted here with permission from the author.
A detail from Anne Piper's sidewalk poem, courtesy of Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk.
Last week I wrote about the College of Visual Arts latest exhibition, featuring an installation by Charles Matson Lume. What I didn't mention was that he also did a series of pieces in the CVA's exterior display windows, inspired by the sidewalk poem imprinted in the cement on the northwest corner of Selby and Western. Here's the poem, by local poet Anne Piper:
Not like fire
Nothing racing to take
or possessions or
No, our love
Anne Piper lives on the West Side. Her poems have been published in a variety of literary journals. She has an MFA in poetry from Hamline University, where she received the Outstanding Poetry Thesis Award in 2008. A version of "Not like fire" appeared in Poetry East.
"I don't want you to understand my poetry. I want my poetry to understand you." --Roy McBride
POETRY is one poem in a film about Roy McBride called A POET POETS. Directed by Media Mike Hazard, the world premiere will be at Intermedia Arts this Sunday with shows at 3pm and 4pm. Enjoy the words and the music!(1 Comments)
MC Hyland lives in Minneapolis, where she runs DoubleCross Press and the Pocket Lab Reading Series, and works as an administrator and occasional letterpress instructor at the Minnecota Center for Book Arts. Hyland's latest book of poetry is Neveragainland, published by Lowbrow Press.
Before you read Hyland's poem "Epistolary" you might find the following definition from wikipedia helpful: "An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic "documents" such as recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use. The word epistolary comes from the Latin word epistola, meaning a letter."
I am a handsome and lonely man.
I like to write these letters to the housewives:
Dear Betty, I am a handsome
and lonely man. I appreciate
your zinnias and Buick. RSVP.
I seal them in envelopes made from top-secret
blueprints. Then they get intercepted
by my ex-girlfriends in the postal service.
Dearest, I have sabotaged the factories of sleep.
I drive around and around the abandoned worksite,
taking photographs. Smug workers, sealed
in their plexiglass pods. I cry out to them: Vive
la television! Abajo las manzanitas!
Will you write to me? I confess to the housewives
everything, everything. I could curl your hair
around my wrist like a shackle. I could draw
our path on every map in the atlas. Look: we are crossing
the Atlas mountains. It is like The Sound of Music
without the element of escape. I am singing you a song
that I wrote for the people of my country
about their beautiful, beautiful smiles.
When we get to the other side, there will be
a house with steaming coffee and pancakes.
I will stitch this letter into my arm.
- "Epistolary," by MC Hyland, as it appears in her collection of poems "Neveragainland" published by Lowbrow Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Brad Liening is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He's the author of four chapbooks, including We Are Doomed: Dispatches from the City of the Future; Oblivion, More; and Are You There God? It's Me, Whitney Houston. Here's his poem "The President of the World Feels Lonely" from his latest collection, Ghosts and Doppelgängers.
The President of the World Feels Lonely
The President of the World
sits by himself in his office.
He looks at his phone.
It's been a hard day.
He looks at the drapes,
which are very heavy
and thick and probably
cost a whole lot of money.
He gets up, goes outside,
digs a hole in the rose garden
and crawls in, where he waits
for someone to find him.
In the hole, his sadness grows
like a black sail in the wind.
- "The President of the World Feels Lonely" by Brad Liening, as it appears in Ghosts and Doppelgängers, published by Lowbrow Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Posted at 3:40 PM on January 10, 2011
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Minnesota Poets
Sidman, says she wrote the poems as a way to explore a forest ecosystem, but also with memories of how as a child at summer camp in Maine how she had been scared of the dark.
Sidman learned of the award just before the the ALSC press conference this morning. She says she's very excited.
"It's unusual for a poetry book to be chosen," she said this afternoon from her home. "And I feel really great about that, that poetry has been acknowledged, So that's part of why I am happy because I don't think poetry is always given its due."
Of the honor itself she says she'll learn more of why the Newbery judges chose her book during the award ceremony in June. Of course it will also bring great attention both to the book, and for her other collections of poems.
"It means a lot of validation for me"Sidman said. "And it means a really warm glow for a little while, until I have to sit down and keep writing. It's not making me any better of a writer, but it's helping with the morale I guess."
You can get a sense of Sidman's work, and of the Rick Allen illustrations in the book trailer below.
Once I heard Robert Bly read his own poetry, I couldn't help but hear it again in my head as I read his words. Rough and melodic at the same time, his voice has become for me an integral part of his work.
So thanks to local filmmaker Mike Hazard, here's a clip of Bly reciting his poem "Call and Answer."
And while I'm on the subject of poetry, I thought it worth pointing it out that the "MN Poets" archive on State of the Arts is now one year deep, and I have yet to repeat the work of any one poet. That's 54 poets and counting! So, when you have a moment, peruse the archive to see what a fine collection of poetry we've built. And if you have some ideas on poets you think should appear on the Monday "Minnesota Poetry" post, let me know.
James Cihlar is the author of the poetry book Undoing (Little Pear Press) and chapbook Metaphysical Bailout (Pudding House Press). The Poetry Editor for Referential Magazine and the Books Review Editor for American Poetry Journal, he has also published reviews in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and on the poetry site Coldfront. The recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship for Poetry and a Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner, Cihlar lives in St Paul.
What we do not know about fate
Harms us less than what we think we know.
We think we know the rate of exchange,
As if we can trade off years of estrangement
With deathbed forgiveness,
A life of sinning
With one true repentance,
But we cannot. Fate will catch up.
Fate does not tell time with clocks.
It does not enter with the creak of the stair
We hear from our bed alone
In a house wrapped in dark,
As we count the muffled footsteps in the hallway,
Measuring the shrinking distance from our pillow.
It will never come at a time
That allows us to anticipate arrival.
It would sooner show up the moment before
We bury our face in sleep
Exhaling the last worry of day.
Fate moves with the staccato bounce
Of an alley cat on winter ice.
It visits us as a car accident en route
To a job interview
The day after we were fired from the previous job -
Bestowing one blow
On the heels of another -
As if to say, you thought you had me figured out,
You thought you were safe.
- "Last Year," by James Cihlar, as it appears in the collection The Wind Blows, The Ice Breaks: Poems of Loss and Renewal by Minnesota Poets, published by Nodin Press. Reprinted here with permission from the editor.
Susan Marie Swanson is a poet and picture book author fascinated by the place where her understandings about poetry, children's own writing, the lives of children, and children's literature converge.
Besides writing poetry and picture books for children, Swanson has been writing poetry with children for more than 25 years, teaching in the COMPAS Writers and Artists in the Schools program and in summer arts programs at St. Paul Academy and the Friends School of Minnesota. Her awards include fellowships in poetry from the Bush Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, and the Minnesota State Arts Board, as well as the McKnight Artist Fellowship in Children's Literature.
Swanson lives with her family in St. Paul.
out of our house.
We left the window
open for you.
Fly like smoke from a chimney.
Fly like the whistle from a train.
Fly far, far
away from my family,
mumbling in their sleep.
Let our night be a night of peace.
- "Trouble, Fly" by Susan Marie Swanson, as it appears in the collection "The Wind Blows, The Ice Breaks" published by Nodin Press. Reprinted here with permission from the editor.(1 Comments)
Robert Hedin is the author, translator, and editor of nearly two dozen books of prose and poetry. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards for his work, including three NEA fellowships, two Minnesota Book Awards, and Bush, McKnight, and Minnesota State Arts Boards fellowships. Forthcoming books in 2011 include Poems Prose Poems and The Lure-Maker from Posio: Selected Prose Poems of Dag T. Straumsvag (co-translated with Louis Jenkins). Robert Hedin is co-founder and current director of the Anderson Center, an artist retreat center, in Red Wing.
The following poem is part of a new collection titled Low Down and Coming On: A Feast of Delicious and Dangerous Poems About Pigs. Edited by James Lenfestey, the concept for the collection came from the late poet Bill Holm.
The last time any of us saw Gustafson's prize sow
She was rising over the floodlights
Of the poultry barns, pedaling off into a sky
Dark with wreckage.
If ever a sow was beautiful
It was she - 1200 pounds of blue-ribbon pork
Rooted down deep on her wallow, her whole body
Lit with gold chaff.
By morning she was famous.
And when we found Gustafson, he was rocking
In the middle of his pigsty,
Staring west toward the county line.
And all we could hear was the rain
And its thin ticking against the leaves,
The empty swill pail still vibrating in his hands.
- "Tornado" by Robert Hedin, as it appears in the collection Low Down and Coming On: A Feast of Delicious and Dangerous Poems about Pigs edited by James Lenfestey, published by Red Dragonfly Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Jeff Johnson writes fiction, poetry, and essays. For many years he worked as editor of Minnesota Monthly magazine, where he founded the annual Tamarack Award short-story competition. In May 2010 he was named Best Magazine Columnist by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. "Lake Street" was part of his winning entry in the 2009 What Light poetry competition sponsored by mnartists.org, a joint project of the Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation.
Driving west today post-sunset,
the boys in the car, not a cloud,
oak twigs like capillaries in
the clean blue skin of the evening,
and I said Man, I love this time
of day at this time of the year.
From his quilted cocoon in the
back seat, the baby made one of
his wet friendly sibilant sounds.
The ten-year-old, though, beside me,
looked up and said What do you mean?
I did not say A sky like that,
the rose wash at the horizon,
the crystalline bigness, the grace,
breathes into me a quiet sort
of glory and does a number
on my tear ducts to boot. Instead
I talked meteorology:
barometric pressure and the
great clarity of cold dry air.
Maybe I was really saying
Store this moment away, and when
you're as old as I am now and
a December dusk is falling,
bring it out and remember me,
your long-gone oddball yearny dad.
And maybe he got all that and
didn't want to think about it,
and especially didn't want
to be told by a dead guy how
to look at an ordinary
winter sky. Over the river
we rolled in near-silence, the massed
trees black beneath the bridge railings,
the water almost bright with the
last of the vanishing day, the
baby the only one talking.
The baby: his carseat faces
backwards for safety. All he'd seen
was upholstery, and maybe
a slice of the deepening east.
- "Lake Street", by Jeff Johnson. Reprinted here with permission from the author.
Nolan Zavoral is the author of "A Season on the Mat: Dan Gable and the Pursuit of Perfection," and "The Heretic Hotel." He spent three decades as a staff writer for three metropolitan newspapers: USA Today, The Milwaukee Journal and The Minneapolis Star Tribune. Nolan, who lives in St. Paul, teaches at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and the College of Continuing Education at the University of Minnesota.
Young Blond Guy at Piano
Who played after lunch, surrounded
By wheelchairs in the nursing home where
He was rehabbing from a car crash, and who
Would stay a titch under a month, and unfurl
Flapper and big-band ditties because he
Sensed the ache in his audience, and who
Once called up my mother as a duet partner and
Filled behind her melody line to You Gotta See
Mama Every Night (Or You won't See Mama
At All). Her grasping, spidery fingers worked
Their way along some ancient motor-neuron
Path, and impressed the staff, who called me, who
Called her, who said, "What young blond guy?"
- "Young Blond Guy at Piano," by Nolan Zavoral, as it appears in the collection The Wind Blows, The Ice Breaks: Poems of Loss and Renewal by Minnesota Poets published by Nodin Press. Reprinted with permission from the editor.
Audre Lord, Meridel Le Sueur and Adrienne Rich at a writers' workshop in Austin, Texas
(source: Wikimedia commons)
Born into a family of social and political activists, Meridel Le Sueur is best known for her books North Star Country - a history of Minnesota - and the novel The Girl. An actress and a journalist, Le Sueur was blacklisted in the 1950s as a communist, but by the 1970s she was hailed as a proto-feminist for her writings in support of women's rights. In her later years, Le Sueur lived in St. Paul, and wrote popular children's biographies. She was heavily influenced by poems and stories that she heard from Native American women, which you can see in this poem, "Dead in Bloody Snow:"
Dead in Bloody Snow
I am an Indian woman
Witness to my earth
Witness for my people.
I am the nocturnal door,
The hidden cave of your sorrow
Like you hidden deep in furrow
of the charnal mound,
I heard the craven passing of the
And saw them shoot at Wounded Knee
upon the sleeping village,
And ran with the guns at my back
Until we froze in our blood on the snow.
I speak from old portages
Where they pursued and shot into the river crossing
All the grandmothers of Black Hawk.
I speak from the smoke of grief,
from the broken stone
And cry with the women crying from the marsh
Trail and tears of drouthed women,
O bitter barren!
O bitter barren!
I run, homeless
in the gun sight,
beside the white square houses
My people starve
In the time of the bitter moon.
I hear my ghostly people crying
A hey A hey A hey.
Rising from our dusty dead the sweet grass,
The skull marking the place of loss and flight
I sing holding my severed head,
to my dismembered child,
A people's dream that died in blood snow.
- "Dead in Bloody Snow," by Meridel Le Sueur, as it appears in the anthology The Wind Blows, The Ice Breaks: Poems of Loss and Renewal by Minnesota Poets, published by Nodin Press. Reprinted here with permission from the editor.
Phebe Hanson, a life-long Minnesotan, has been writing poems since her late forties, after raising three children and a series of foster children. Her teaching experience spans forty years, beginning in a one-room country school, continuing through many years of teaching high school English, and ending with fifteen years at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, from which she retired as Associate Professor Emeritus. Sacred Hearts from Milkweed Editions was her first published book. The poem "Crone" comes from her collection of poems "Why Still Dance: 75 Years, 75 Poems."
Carefuly supported by my sturdy walking stick,
carved by an old Norwegian in Lutsen, I pick my way
down the incline to where waves crash against rocks,
settle myself against a sun-warmed stone that just fits
my body, gives respite for my stiff back. I spread
and lift my billowy skirt to let sun rest tenderly
on winter-paled legs, bend to examine
closely skin on knees and calves,
scored with fine wrinkles I can hardly believe are there,
preferring to believe my legs are unchanged since
childhood, legs hanging happily from monkey bars or
bicycling down country roads as I look for pussy willows.
Lame Deer says our bodies get so wrinkled as we age,
that we begin to look like the rocks themselves and the markings
on my legs do look, I think, like the ones on these ancient glacial rocks,
a thought I find strangely comforting. "Soon I'll be a crone,"
I say to myself, "an elder with wrinkles and wisdom,
and when even my walking stick can no longer
support my old body, I'll slide down the path, a gleeful
child again, crawl on the rocks like a baby new to the world,
toward crashing waves and endless sky."
- "Crone" by Phebe Hanson, as it appears in her collection of poetry Why Still Dance, published by Nodin Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Heid E. Erdrich has authored three poetry collections including National Monuments from Michigan State University Press and Fishing for Myth from New Rivers Press. She also authored The Mother's Tongue, Salt Publishing's Earthworks series, and co-edited Sister Nations: Native American Women on Community, Minnesota Historical Society Press.
A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibway, Heid grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota. She earned degrees from Dartmouth College and The Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. She and her sister Louise Erdrich recently co-founded a non-profit clearinghouse for indigenous language-centered literature called Birchbark House.
The Way To
In the dimly lit cosmos of the body
one egg turns planet-like, its gravity
draws currents through a woman
like tide pull in caves by the sea.
Try to keep such images revolving
when even benevolent passion
seems too close, ironic, unnatural.
Not one of your girlfriends will ever
describe the actual moment:
How her eyes might have wavered,
tilted to his, her chin a perfect emblem,
sweet offering of someone wholly else,
and a bondage gone to willingly.
Certainly no one mentions
the little fear cries. Aloud or silent,
who knows for sure.
Some women hear both at once
Not me! And the twin call let me!
The risk of stage fright's greater
the bigger the production.
Forget what it is you mean to do.
Make dinner. Pay bills. Wash the car.
The moment will come upon you.
He closes your eyes with kisses,
Aims his love and you pray he misses,
then you unpray for days.
- "The Way To" by Heid Erdrich, as it appears in her book of poems The Mother's Tongue, published by Salt Publishing. Reprinted here with permission from the author.
Although not known as a poet, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote poetry all his life, mostly in the form of song lyrics or rhyming banter. Here's a poem from his collection "Poems 1911 - 1940" which was published posthumously. "We Leave To-night..." also appears in the Minnesota Historical Society's collection Where One Voice Ends Another Begins: 150 Years of Minnesota Poetry.
We Leave To-Night...
We leave to-night...
Silent, we filled the still, deserted street,
A column of dim gray,
And ghosts rose startled at the muffled beat
Along the moonless way;
The shadowy shipyards echoed to the feet
That turned from night and day.
And so we linger on the windless decks,
See on the spectre shore
Shades of a thousand days, poor gray-ribbed wrecks...
Oh, shall we then deplore
Those futile years!
See how the sea is white!
The clouds have broken and the heavens burn
To hollow highways, paved with gravelled light
The churning of the waves about the stern
Rises to one voluminous nocturne,
We leave to-night.
- "We Leave To-night..." by F. Scott Fitzgerald, as it appears in Where One Voice Ends Another Begins: 150 Years of Minnesota Poetry published by MHS Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Part of a series of pictures depicting Frances Densmore at the Smithsonian Institution in 1916 during a recording session with Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief for the Bureau of American Ethnology.
For the past ten months I've been featuring a poem a week by a Minnesota poet. I realized recently that I was drawing exclusively from modern poetry, without looking back on our rich literary history.
To fix that, I picked up my copy of "Where One Voice Ends Another Begins: 150 Years of Minnesota Poetry," published by MHS Press. As it turns out, this region's poetry goes back much further than 150 years; Frances Densmore, with assistance from Robert Higheagle, translated song-poems of the Sioux and Chippewa.
Here's a particularly sweet love poem:
In Her Canoe
In her canoe I see her,
Maiden of my delighted eyes.
I see in the rippling of the water
The trailing light slipped from her paddle blade.
A signal sent to me.
Ah, maiden of my desire,
Give me a place in thy canoe;
Give me the paddle blade,
And you shall steer us away
Wherever you would go!
- "In Her Canoe," a Chippewa song-poem translated by Frances Densmore, with assistance from Robert Higheagle, as it appears in "Where One Voice Ends Another Begins: 150 Years of Minnesota Poetry," published by MHS Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.(2 Comments)
J.P. White spent his childhood summers sailing on Lake Erie. In the early 1980s, he worked delivering sailboats up and down the Eastern seabord, to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. He is the author of five books of poems, including "All Good Water" published by Holy Cow! Press. White currently sails a Cape Dory 25D out of St. Louis Bay on Lake Minnetonka, near Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Open or Closed
Your hands are always open or closed.
They are not encumbered
with any other choices
that weight and worry the rest of you.
The bright wet fist of the infant
tells us trust comes slowly.
The outstretched fingers of the prisoner
remind us trouble finds us quickly.
How alone a person lives with memories,
dreams and pain more tangled
than the great hoop of the Sargasso Sea.
But your two hands, that old married couple,
puttering along after decades,
are still charming to watch,
one holding the screen door
while the other fishes for the key.
Mostly they are courteous, gentle and tolerant
of one another even when everything
knots your shadow and the door remains locked.
See them there by your side,
keeping you company after everyone else
has left for good,
touching each other
for reassurance as if to say,
How's the weather over there?
When should we break bread?
Will this be a day to open or close?
- "Open or Closed" by J.P. White, from the collection "All Good Water" published by Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Carol Connolly was born, raised and educated in the Irish Catholic section of Saint Paul, Minnesota. She began writing poetry at the age of forty. She is Saint Paul's first Poet Laureate, a lifetime mayoral appointment.
A Gentleman's Invitation
Meet me at six o'clock
at the New French Cafe.
We will share,
a cup of consomme.
Handsome is he
His smile is as wide
as the English Channel.
But a hungry woman
searching for substance
in a cup of consomme
at six o'clock
at the New French Cafe.
- "A Gentleman's Invitation" by Carol Connolly, as it appears in her collection "All This and More," published by Nodin Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Margaret Hasse is the author of several books of poetry, and the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship. She lives in Saint Paul with her husband and sons, and works as a freelance writer, teacher and consultant.
The smoke of the roasted pumpkin drifts down the street
from jack-o-lanterns burning in the night.
A little ghost trips on his sheet and cries out.
A pint-sized pirate, an alien who lost his flashlight,
and a famous baseball player run from house to house.
Watchful parents on foot trail the trick-or-treaters.
My son's friend wanted to paint his face black
to complete his costume as Jackie Robinson.
My son's real skin would have restricted him
to the colored section just two generations ago.
My own face appears in the mask of a fake mother
to my hopped-up-on candy boy.
Yet I wear the worried look of any real mother
aware of ragged unlit pavement, tampered loot,
and the terrible whiteness of my own skin as we pass
a scarecrow hanging by his neck in a front yard.
- "Disguises" by Margaret Hasse, as it appears in her book Milk and Tides, published by Nodin Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Bevery Rollwagen has published two collections of poetry: She Just Wants and Flying. Many of the poems in Flying draw from Rollwagen's 18 years working as a stewardess. However, as summer turns to fall and we enter the month of October, I found myself drawn to this poem:
Here they come again, hollering
through the streets, only this year
the parents come dragging after
them, some of the dads holding
brown beer bottles. The tiny
kids trip up the steps, too scared
to make any sort of threat. The
big kids say it for them and hold
out their pillow cases and brown
bags leering in their lipstick and
hockey uniforms. There is always
one kid who grabs a handful instead
of just one or two of the little candy
bars. That's the one I love. That's
the one I wanted to be but couldn't.
The Grateful Dead sang, Too much
of everything is just enough. Tonight
we are not dead but we are grateful,
so I say, go ahead and take as much as
you want. Take as much as you need.
- "Halloween" by Beverly Rollwagen, as it appears in her collection Flying, published by Nodin Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Kathryn Kysar is the author of a book of poetry, Dark Lake (Loonfeather, 2002), and the editor of a collection of essays, Riding Shotgun: Women Writing about Their Mothers (Borealis, 2008). Her poetry book Pretend the World will be published by Holy Cow! Press in March 2011. Kysar teaches at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and lives in St. Paul.
Bodies of Water
on the newspaper lining
of her sewing cupboard
mothers are the ocean
their children swim in.
The baby inside me burps, flips,
confirming her truth. The mother
is the ocean and the boat, the rubber raft
and the assailing storm, the water their bodies float in.
are rebelling, sewing nebulous flesh
into shadowy, unconfirmed masses.
He awaits the tests as these cells
flourish at night in the dark,
sapping his energy, using his fat,
growing these strange fruits.
The baby converts my dinner
into flesh, into eyes and nose,
brain cells and bone. She takes my energy
plus apple juice to make blood.
She takes the car song of her brother
and makes movement, a leg or hand
hitting the sides of uterine walls
to the internal waves of sound.
I am eating a pumpkin pie for you tonight.
I am eating Caribbean rice. I am drinking whole milk
and dreaming of breakfast with toast and butter.
I am converting this food into energy into mass
into cells. I wish I could give you some.
What is it like to live in a home of water,
to breathe and drink the fluid of mother ocean,
buoyant and salty and clear?
I lie curled in the bathtub at night,
the lights turned low, mineral salts in the water,
the womb within the womb,
a mother becoming an ocean.
My neighbor tells me stories of Elsie:
Elsie plants a Haralson apple tree at age 98;
Elsie's scraps of scribbled sewing paper;
the night she sits on her porch during a storm,
the huge elm crashing down, its leaves
brushing her screen windows, her roof.
I always wanted to see a tree falling,
she said calmly, in awe, in wonder.
Perhaps my time has not come.
Marlon is pale and accepting;
he has cleared his heart to calm.
Remission: he stitches words into paper with paint.
Perhaps my time has not come.
The ocean inside him rises, a cleansing water
of peace. He wakes from the dream,
sips a glass of water, and breathes.
- "Bodies of Water" by Kathryn Kysar, as it appears in her book Dark Lake, published by Loonfeather Press. Reprinted here with permission from the author.
Philip S. Bryant is the author of several collections of poetry, including Sermon on a Perfect Spring Day, which was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award in 1999. Most recently his work appeared in Where One Voice Ends Another Begins: 150 years of Minnesota Poetry. Born and raised in Chicago, Bryant is currently a Professor of English at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Here's a poem from Bryant's collection Stompin' at the Grand Terrace: a jazz memoir in verse. The book is accompanied by a cd, which features Bryant reading some of his poems to musical accompaniment by pianist Carolyn Wilkins.
Wade in the Water
I wanted to say
Honey chile, let's dance!
but didn't move
from my place
in that dark corner.
She was a big black girl
with a small round face
and thick wide glasses.
She waited alone
on the other side of the room
as dancers moved
graceful as small minnows
swimming through blue
shallow waters. I wanted to
wade right into the water
come up and make a big splash for her
on the other side of the room where
she'd stood all night staring
across the vast empty spaces
- as if peering across a big wide sea -
to pull her in up to her knees.
I knew the others would laugh
but so what.
We'd hold each other tight
and slowly wade out farther
until the water lifted us up
and carried us out on a crystal
blue tide of music.
- "Wade in the Water" by Philip S. Bryant, as it appears in his collection Stompin' at the Grand Terrace: a jazz memoir in verse, published by Blueroad Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Interested in hearing more from Philip Bryant? Check out one of his recent commentaries for MPR.(2 Comments)
Robert Edwards grew up in Detroit Lakes, studied with Thomas McGrath in Moorhead, then lived in St. Paul for many years. He currently lives near Seattle and is editor of Pemmican, an online poetry magazine. His books include Radio Venceremos, American Sounds, Transparencies, and Rumours of Earth (forthcoming).
Accusing The Moon
you wear me out.
I'm a live wire
carrying the warm oil
of your current.
I arc blue screams
to everything I pass.
Your light digs a grave
in my forehead.
Your light butters the rust
on all the abandoned cars
I want to drive over the ocean.
Your faces all look down
their noses at me.
Moon, hear me out.
I can't take much more of this.
You come with your scythes of light
and cut my grain down green.
You make me say goodbye
to everything I love
by introducing me to it.
- "Accusing The Moon" by Robert Edwards, as it appears in his collection Transparencies, published by Red Dragonfly Press. Reprinted here with permission by the publisher.
James Lenfestey is the author of several poetry collections, including Saying Grace, Affection for Spiders, The Toothed and Clever World and Han Shan is the Cure for Warts.
A while back I wrote about a documentary called "Cold Mountain," all about the Tang Dynasty poet Han Shan. Lenfestey features prominently in that documentary, and is a great devotee of the eccentric character from 12 centuries ago. It inspired Lenfestey to write A Cartload of Scrolls, a collection of 100 poems written in the style of Han Shan. Here's one of them:
At the Vietnam Memorial
His name ambushed me out of black granite, a college friend.
And with his death, a vow revealed carved on my heart
these thirty years: We who stayed must also pay.
They carried dead back to the chopper, we only carried water.
This is the way it is for us who did not go,
no matter how hard we fought to save those crouched in this dark wall.
There is no release from this blood vow
'til our names too are carved on polished stone.
- "At the Vietnam Memorial" by James P. Lenfestey, as it appears in his collection of poems A Cartload of Scrolls, published by Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Mark Conway's new book of poetry Dreaming Man, Face Down is out this month, and Conway will be reading this Friday at 7pm at Micawber's Books. The collection deals primarily with the aftermath of death, and what those of us left behind must face.
His previous book of poetry, Any Holy City, was short-listed for the 2007 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Gettysburg Review, Bomb, The Walrus and elsewhere. Conway directs the Literary Arts Institute at the College of Saint Benedict.
Here's a poem from Conway's new collection:
Tarot Card of the Dreaming Man, Face Down
Then it was gone, the beatitude
of your body,
while the rest lay, specifically,
there: black, black,
as a dead dog, the back
of your legs
looking plastic, looking extra, trailing
behind the rest of you
like a mooch, like a goddamn moron and you
already camouflaging yourself inside
the light and dark, mouthing
the prime numbers of eternity...
We gave you days to continue dying
and you did
after you were dead. We
needed time - poor relations
to arrive, to decide upon
the precise symbolism
of the flowers, to complete
the box, nail it into
position, to divest the body
of its slime, to call
your name three times;
to call you three times;
to call you by name three times.
And at first.
You wouldn't go.
You own this body
thriving within the caucus
of microscopic insects and dazzled
acids there to burn you down to ashes
you over there, you
in your over-there work-body
of the soul, your hooded
spirit released and humming
like its crazy in the light.
Where you are, slipping
through the monstrous
inner membrane of the world,
you see how it works.
I, like a mooch, like a goddamn moron, live.
We waited for you. Two or three days.
Then an old man came and prayed.
- "Tarot Card of the Dreaming Man, Face Down" by Mark Conway, as it appears in his new collection Dreaming Man, Face Down, published by Dream Horse Press.
Poetry has a unique power to comfort in times of loss. And it's that power that inspired Jim Perlman at Holy Cow! Press to assemble an anthology of poems about losing a loved one. The result, "Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude," is a compelling tome, filled with not only great Minnesota poets, but also Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Jane Kenyon and Pablo Neruda, just to name a few. Here's a poem by Deborah Gordon Cooper, one of the co-editors of the anthology:
in the produce aisle,
choosing my oranges by feel
and by their fragrance,
I hear my father
whistling in my ear.
A Scottish lullaby.
Everything else stops.
There is a tenderness no border can contain.
A web that may be glimpsed
in certain, unexpected plays of light,
like a shawl
across one's shoulders
laid by unseen hands.
There are sounds in other decibels
the heart can hear
when the wind is right
and the mind has quieted its clicking.
The border guards are sleeping
at their stations.
Spirits come and go.
The wall between the living and the dead
is as yielding as a membrane,
is as porous as a skin.
Lay your palm against it
and you can hear their voices
in your hand
and in the place where the chest opens
like a flower.
They are not far away,
no farther than the breath,
and enter us as easily,
in pine and peonies,
in oranges and rain.
- "Visitations," by Deborah Gordon Cooper, as it appears in the anthology Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude, published by Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.(2 Comments)
Joe Paddock's collection of poetry "Dark Dreaming, Global Dimming" focuses on both birds, and the fate of our environment, and the many instances in which the two are interlinked. A native of Litchfield, Minnesota, he and his wife now live in the same house where he grew up. Years ago he served as "poet in residence" for MPR's Worthington station. I chose the poem "Mass Extinction" both for its bittersweet tone and for the fact it refers to a public radio reporter as "cruel" (I love it!). Upon doing a little research, I found out there's more to this story. Read the poem, and then keep reading to find out what I learned.
Earth is currently losing something on the order of 30,000 species per year - some three species per hour.
And maybe 15 years ago,
blurry now in memory, the story
on public radio, in Hawaii,
of a last bird of its kind - I can't
remember its name -
had been discovered, and
the reporter and guide,
were listening to, recording
its song. I do remember clearly
the full richness of its warble,
somehow tired and forelorn, a song
that continues in me, sounding
down through the years,
only in me. The bird, the last
of its species, a male, lost
in the hormonal fires
of his breeding season, lonely,
singing to call in a mate, one
that didn't exist, that wasn't,
and he sang and he sang, and cruel,
the reporter and biologist,
then played for the longing bird,
a recording, an echo
from out of the past,
of a full-throated female response,
and O! how the male bird then burst
into glorious song!
- "Mass Extinction," by Joe Paddock, as it appears in his book Dark Dreaming, Global Dimming published by Red Dragonfly Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
So when I read this poem, I immediately recognized that this must have been one of the stories Alex Chadwick reported back when NPR and National Geographic were partnering for their series "Radio Expeditions." Sure enough, I quickly found the story Paddock must have been thinking of when he wrote his poem. But look at the story synopsis:
In the latest National Geographic Radio Expedition, NPR's Alex Chadwick reports on an extremely rare bird species in Hawaii. The Po'ouli can live only in the most remote areas of the islands. Scientists have found THREE birds...two females and one male. Conservationists plan to either mate the birds in captivity, or bring them together in the wild and hoping the birds form a mating pair.
Momentarily I rejoiced, but I should have known better. A search of the phrase "Po'Ouli bird" quickly told me that the birds never reproduced, and as of 2004 are believed to be extinct.
Does the added information add to or take away from Paddock's poem? In this case, neither, I think. His poem is still just as bittersweet, and the truth of the bird's extinction just as real.
Tim Nolan was born in Minneapolis in 1954 and graduated from teh University of Minnesota in 1978 with a B.A. in English. He and his wife Kate moved to New York City in 1978 where he obtained an M.F.A. degree in writing from Columbia University, worked as an archivist at the Whitney Museum, and read the poetry slush pile for The Paris Review. Tim returned to Minnesota in 1985 and received his law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in 1989.
Nolan now practices in litigation with the McGrann Shea Law firm, and lives with his wife Kate and their three kids in South Minneapolis.
For some reason Nolan's slightly creepy poem about a bullhead fish struck me as perfect on what is forecast to be an unbearably hot summer's day.
We used to throw them back,
disgusted with their prominent
white skulls, bulging eyes,
black shoestring whiskers.
They deeply offended our sense
of what a fish should be. Dirty
scavengers, eating everything
off the sludge bed. They seldom
played on the line, but took bait
with a heavy, impolite thump,
their white bellies rolling
toward the boat. They slid out
of water like drenched birds
snarled in seaweed, their mouths
bleeding from the hooks. Always
we threw them back, down to Hell
where they would think to rise again.
- "Bullhead" by Tim Nolan, as it appears in his collection The Sound of It, published by New Rivers Press. Reprinted here with permission from the author.
Jane Graham George was born in 1951 in Fort Benning, Georgia. She and her twin sister Molly both studied English at the University of Minnesota. Molly went on to become a visual artist, while Jane got a degree in Library Science and pursued poetry. Her years working as a librarian in Minnesota inspired her book of poetry Library Land.
Dakota County Fair
Plaid-shirt farmboys with bale-strong
arms leaning on the metal corrals,
grandmas, other pigs and handlers,
all watch breathlessly as a small
teen-aged girl and her black, white-
belted pig stand waiting for the judge
who speaks as though he hails
from one of the finest salons
in Europe, literary, I mean,
as if awarding the Prix Goncourt,
enunciating each honeyed word.
"Folks, this young lady does not poke or prod,
is at one with her charming Hampshire hog.
4-H or not, this is equanimity."
Though she really does look like Athena,
it isn't quite like hitting a home run
or sinking a putt from an improbable distance
which is why, once the judge awards the blue ribbon,
there's no arm pumping, no prom-spinning in place.
Something about a hog does bring you right back to earth.
- "Swine Judging, Dakota County Fair" by Jane Graham George, as it appears in her collection Library Land published by Red Dragonfly Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Edith Rylander has been writing poetry since 1943. Her life as wife, mother, gardener, stock raiser, woods dweller, and thoughtful observer of nature and life is reflected in her poems, which have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies.
Rylander has also been a newspaper columnist since 1980, her work appearing in the Long Prairie Leader, the Morrison County Record, and the St. Cloud Times, and in a collection called Rural Routes: Essays on Living in Rural Minnesota. Rylander lives with her husband in Grey Eagle, Minnesota.
Planting the Cemetery Box
How easily a person falls
Into certain attitudes!
Here I stand, hands clasped, head bowed,
Looking at your gravestone
As if I needed help
Reading the name on it,
The name both of us married
In different generations.
But kneeling is natural,
Though I was never a kneeler,
Have never had your closeness
to that bearded old heathen-slayer
Up in the blue May sky.
When you talked about heaven it sounded
Like a big family picnic,
Potato salad and nectar
And Swedish sourdough rye.
Nobody having an argument,
None of the kids crabby,
All the folks you loved, together,
I was never that sort of kneeler;
But kneeling to plant is easy.
I set down the flats, I break up
The good dark soil, I water.
I lift and transplant two geraniums,
Two petunias, an impatiens,
And two tufts of sweet alyssum,
Pouring more water around them,
Firming up the soil,
And your old competent hands
Rise up around mine,
Passing on wisdom, pressing the earth tight.
Something pours into me,
Not down from above,
But up, from the thin grassed dirt
Of Oakland cemetery.
It is good to be brought low,
To be borne down, to feel
This hot rush in body,
Face, and eyes. To kneel
With our hands in dirt
And the dear bones
Of our loved dead under us,
Pressing against our knees.
- "Planting the Cemetery Box" by Edith Rylander, as it appears in her collection Hive Dancer, published by Red Dragonfly Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Seasons are often used as metaphors for the stages of our lives, and Barton Sutter uses the metaphor to particularly good effect in his poem "Stony River." Sutter has lived in Duluth since 1987, and his poem recalls for me fall trips to the Boundary Waters; the rhythm of the writing feels reminiscent of paddling through the water. Upon reading "Stony River," I was reminded of Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-picking." Read them both out loud, and see what you think. Then get out there and enjoy some of this summer weather, before you find it's gone.
I am trying to remember
That blue bend in the river,
The pines and yellow grasses.
How quickly my life passes.
The air out there was incense,
Essence of September.
Was it peppermint and anise?
I really can't remember.
I am trying to remember
The way the water glittered,
Sunlight like a benediction,
But that afternoon is gone.
I am trying to remember
Those minnows bright as embers,
How like sparks they flashed and vanished
In the pool below the rapids.
I heard a bird or two, as I remember,
The splashing of my paddle in the river,
The trickle when I lifted it, and then there were
Those rumors in the breeze that made me shiver.
I am trying to remember
That eagle soaring over
And the shorebirds by the stones,
But those creatures have all flown.
Every autumn now I tell myself; Remember
To get out there on the river
Under golden leaves that cling to crooked branches.
We only get so many chances.
That daytrip through the jack pines and the willows
Is fading like the music of a cello.
Nothing in this life will last forever,
Though I hoped it might while floating down the river.
- "Stony River" by Barton Sutter, as it appears in his collection Farewell to the Starlight in Whiskey, published by BOA Editions. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Steve Healey is the author of Earthling and, most recently, 10 Mississippi. He lives in Minneapolis, has taught at both Macalester College and the University of Minnesota, as well as at several Minnesota correctional facilities.
10 Mississippi consists of poems which explore our hide and seek games with our own memories, and the torrential flood of information - both inane and horrifying - that flows over us every day. Here's a poem from the collection which I think does a good job capturing Healey's distinct and powerful way with language.
The body recovered from the Mississippi River
this afternoon has been tentatively identified
as that of authorities on Tuesday identified
the body pulled from the Mississippi River
on Sunday evening as police on Saturday
identified a body discovered in the Mississippi River
this week as that of the crew recovered the body
of the man in the Mississippi River Wednesday night
and authorities suspect he may be the same man
bystanders witnessed enter the river Sunday
after several hours of searching the murky waters
of the Mississippi Tuesday night divers recovered
the body of a thirty-nine-year-old woman
local authorities pulled an unidentified body
out of the river's floodwaters Saturday
a body pulled from the Mississippi River
was identified Monday as that of the body
found last weekend in the Mississippi River
was identified Tuesday as that of a man from
the body of a man believed to be in his twenties
was pulled from the Mississippi River on Thursday
police said authorities are investigating after
a body was found inside a vehicle at the bottom
of the Mississippi the search ended Wednesday
after his body was discovered downstream
identification was released Friday night
of the man whose body was pulled from
Monday morning according to the sheriff
a body was pulled from the river.
- "1 Mississippi" by Steve Healey, as it appears in his collection 10 Mississippi, published by Coffee House Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Patricia Kirkpatrick grew up in Des Moines and graduated from the University of Iowa and San Francisco State University. She has received awards from the NEA, the Bush Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Loft-McKnight and the Jerome Foundation. She teaches in the MFA program at Hamline University, and has also taught and conducted workshops at Macalester College, the Princeton Theological Seminary and the Loft. She lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with her family.
I was particularly drawn to this poem of hers, because I knew I could actually see the source of her inspiration. After reading the poem, scroll down to see a picture of the Spirit Horse in question.
Letter to the Spirit Horse
after the Haniwa Horse, Japan, fifth century A.D.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
You were made to go with the dead
to the spirit world.
But one thousand five hundred years
has brought you children
sitting in a circle on the floor.
When they draw, their pencils waver
over their papers like antennae
to outline the bells on your rump, your tail
as stiff as a tusk, the shoulder holes tuneling to
emptiness inside you. When the dead depart,
stranded alone, but intact
and sturdy as a cooking pot,
your ears pricked and open like snouts,
your legs loped and tubular as beach kelp.
The children look up from their brief seat
of childhood. They want apples and grass
to feed you, alfalfa and clover
to grow at your feet, a fellow
creature to press against your clay muzzle.
Forgive us for keeping you
all this time in the only world
we can picture.
- "Letter to the Spirit Horse," by Patricia Kirkpatrick, from her collection of poems title Century's Road, published by Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Haniwa Horse, Kofun period
Image courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Richard Solly has authored/coauthored three books, and his poetry has received numerous awards, including fellowships from the Bush Foundation and the Minnesota State Arts Board. Solly currently works as a senior acquisitions editor for Hazelden Publishing, teaches creative writing at The Loft Literary Center, and does community service work in the areas of hospice and arts-in-health care. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Body Reproaches the Soul
And if the body were not the Soul, what is the Soul?
- Walt Whitman
Have you forgotten? I gave birth to you,
bound your wings to my shoulders. My flesh
created desire, the word More, your quest.
Inside muscles and neurons, you reside
not as prisoner, but as strength, energy.
On evenings, when my legs raced down corn rows,
pumped a swing into the crisp air, you named
the sensations - sweat, heart beating, taste of salt
on lips - heavenly. Then, you forgot. For years.
And imagined God bodiless and everywhere.
Now you seek to fly above the earth's density,
leave behind toenails, stubble, teeth, and escape
through some aperture in the sky. Why?
Here, we taste strawberries, mangoes, plums,
see orioles, smell peonies, dahlias, fuchsia.
Have you forgotten which came first:
the iris or beauty? The kiss or love?
My blood flows through your abstractions;
bones shelter them. Even in the afterlife,
the body's not excluded. It doesn't turn to ash
but reassembles, cell by cell. Then it stands
on tiptoe, picks peaches from a branch.
Don't panic. I'll carry you on my shoulders
into a garden; everyone we have loved will follow,
wearing the familiar flannel shirts, jeans,
lace collar. Dogs will bark, leaves will fall.
It will be a good day like any other.
- "The Body Reproaches the Soul" by Richard Solly, as printed in his collection From Where The Rivers Come, published by Holy Cow! Press.
Ann Iverson is a visual artist and poet who has worked in education for years. She's a member of the Laurel Poetry Collective, and her work has appeared in more than 20 print and online journals and literary magazines. She is the author of two collections of poetry: Come Now to the Window (Laurel Poetry Collective) and Definite Space (Holy Cow! Press), which was written in response to the events of 9/11 and her son's subsequent deployments to Iraq. Definite Space was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award and the Pushcart Prize in 2008. Iverson is a resident of East Bethel, Minnesota.
At lunch, people talk about it
here and there
between the weather
and their tuna sandwiches.
Between all the other losses
over Caesar salad
or beef stroganoff
or on an elevator
for its own good.
Speeding down County Road 18,
pouring rain, I saw light
beyond the clouds.
I talked to your image
rising from the mist
as though you make it through,
finding the solid truth
of God and blue sky.
- "War" by Ann Iverson, from her book Definite Space, published by Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.(1 Comments)
Louis Alemayehu is a poet, musician and a community elder. He is a founding member of the musical group Ancestor Energy, and recently began working with Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota. He also informally counsels youth of all backgrounds, including Latino, Hmong, Native, African American and Euro-American heritage.
In light of the ongoing news of the BP oil spill, it seemed fitting to share Alemayehy's poem "The Holy Land is All the Earth:"
The Holy Land is All the Earth
Some times I hardly know what to say
In this High Tech Dark Age:
"...and one day a Sun will rise with healing in its wings."
And loving dew will sparkle on our bare flesh,
Do you know the way from here to there dear friend?
Through the storm?
Are the rocks still screaming ?
When I am silent, really quiet
I hear voices:
The Holy Land is all the Earth
And all the Earth is holy.
The Earth is our only physical home... Creation,
Yes, all the Earth is holy:
The water - holy,
The air - holy,
The creatures that crawl and the creatures that swim - holy,
The 2-legged and the winged - holy,
Let us touch with kind hands
Blessing all that lives,
All that laments.
Rise! Be robust and brave in the face of dawn.
YOU are the face of Dawn,
Integrity of Water, Light and Love can sustain us now.
THIS is the Fire Next Time
NOW, at last real power!
And the new world begins on this breath.
Now is the time, now is the time
Embracing in the silence of our after-weeping,
Resting on the breast
Of Our Mother's Sacred Heart
Beating, beating, beating...
"The Holy Land is All the Earth" Louis Alemayehu, written in 2007. Reprinted here by permission of the author.
Anna George Meek has published her poetry in numerous national reviews. She is the recipient of an Academy of American Poetry Prize, two Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowships, a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Grant, and has also been a finalist for the National Poetry Series (twice), the Minnesota Book Award, and the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Her first book, Acts of Contortion, won the 2002 Brittingham Prize in Poetry and was published by Wisconsin University Press. Meek lives with her husband and daughter in Minneapolis where she works as a freelance musician and as a professor of English.
Meek will read her poetry this Friday along with poet Richard Terrill at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts in Fridley. Here's one of her newer works.
My husband is bathing our baby
in the clawfoot tub. She rides its pleasures;
the porcelain ocean swirls and slaps.
Not water alone, uterine longing, such glistening
muscle; in my daughter, a nautilus
where her mind lives. Its chambers open
deep, each quiet curl of her neurons. Her body
rocks and leans into the silver underworld.
From the next room, I watch her
as I play the violin; its music wanders
the hall, the bath, where my daughter
doesn't realize she listens. I study
the curious ventriloquism of my hands.
Their fingers strike down like diving birds.
No longer able to speak, my father listens
to the music, eyes closed, and swaying.
Under his lashes, tears brim. He cannot remember
my name from my daughter's, yet always,
when he embraces me, his hands fall just so
between my shoulder blades.
I can hear my father's breath lifting and falling;
hear the pads of my husband's fingers
massaging the baby's skull. One day her body
will remember his hands, just so, and who I may be,
no matter. For a moment,
I lift the bow from the strings; sound
dissipates; rosin atoms spin away in clouds as they will.
- "Muscle Memory" by Anna George Meek. Reprinted here with permission from the author.
Bao Phi has been a performance poet since 1991. A two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion and a National Poetry Slam finalist, Bao Phi has released several CDs of his poetry, such as the recently sold-out Refugeography to his newest CD, The Nguyens EP. He was featured in the award-winning documentary feature film The Listening Project as an American listener who traveled the world to talk to everyday people about global issues and politics.
In addition to his creative work, Phi was recently honored with a Facing Race Ambassador award in recognition for his community work, and has published essays in topics from Asians in hip hop to Asian representation in video games. Currently he continues to perform across the country, remains active as an Asian American community organizer, writes a popular and provocative blog on the Star Tribune's Your Voices community blog, and works at the Loft, where he creates and operates programs for artists and audiences of color. Here's his poem "The Godzilla Sestina:"
The Godzilla Sestina
Under the ocean where I was created
in a womb of dancing atoms, a tectonic tale
is breaking the skin of sea floor. Dreams burn here:
lava flows underwater like bleeding fireballs,
sunless sleep disturbed as they listened
for the sound of the nightmares they dropped.
Fat Man and the Little Boy drop,
like two suns tumbling, sent to destroy creation,
no one will be left alive to listen
for the lessons we need to learn from this tale,
just a skyline made of a blossoming fireball
and a symphony of silenced screams horrible beyond hearing.
So I'm born, a radiating thunder lizard, here
to crush American Dreams as my footfalls drop
like apocalypse, and from my lips a chorus of fireballs
razes all that you have created
like runaway rays of sun, my tail
too large to fit in your streets, listen
to see if your superheroes will sing if no one listens,
their words so tired that no one hears,
flag colored costumes useless in this tale.
Look at the sky for God, for an answer, to see if black rain drops,
to see this towering monster created
by the heat of a million rabid fireballs
unleashed on a people turned to ash by the fire, balled
fists and screams evaporated while history listens.
Now I loom, people scramble in my jagged eclipse, the penumbra I created
is shaped like the ghost of the Enola Gay flying across the moon. Here,
I will illuminate your whispered crimes as the indigo of night drops
before your story is fully told.
Children will sleep trembling under my tail,
the threat of my story like a guillotine of fireballs,
a sharp string of ghastly stars waiting to drop
because even before this lesson, they should have listened,
before we came to this, they should have heard,
they should have known what would be created.
I speak english in this tale, but they don't listen,
so I speak in fireballs, the language they hear,
the nightmare they dropped, the monster they created.
- "The Godzilla Sestina" by Bao Phi, reprinted here with permission from the author.
Connie Wanek is the author of three books of poetry, most recently On Speaking Terms from Copper Canyon Press, and she has been the recipient of several awards, including the Willow Poetry Prize and the Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize. In 2009 Wanek was named the George Morrison Artist of the Year, an honor given to a northern Minnesotan for contributions to the arts over many years. She lives in the country outside Duluth, Minnesota, but often finds herself in a green tent somewhere in the Boundary Waters wilderness.
After you have read all you possibly can
there may be a few lines left.
Please don't feel obligated!
They're cold by now
as conclusions often are.
Hard, too, like beef fat that
whitens at the foot of a roast.
Some can make another meal of leftovers
and often read past midnight
drinking the last wine
directly out of the bottle.
"Happily ever after" is for those
who never seem to tire of sweets.
And you: you're already going home,
leaving me with this mess,
wrinkled napkins, bones and crusts
and onions teased out of the salad.
If only I had a pig to fatten
on last words.
- "Leftovers" by Connie Wanek, as it appears in her collection On Speaking Terms, published by Copper Canyon Press. © 2010 Copper Canyon Press
Laressa Dickey's poems appear in numerous journals and are included in the anthologies Life in Body: Writings from the House of Mercy and Sierra Songs & Descants: Poetry and Prose of the Sierra. She is a poet, dancer and teacher who works with diverse communities to increase access to movement and writing. She grew up on her family's tobacco farm in rural Tennessee amidst tall poplars. Here's her prose poem "Smoke, Spit, Chew."
SMOKE, SPIT, CHEW
Tobacco. What leaves, tannins. Grandma smoked it unfiltered. Daddy grew it like the rest of our neighbors. In the summers, if I was lucky, I got to ride the setter instead of following behind to cover the plant with dirt and stand it up straight. What hurt was my back afterward from standing and bending, standing and bending. I took long breaks, tried to stay in the shade as long as I could before my Daddy found me, lazing around. Daddy helped Kenny set his tobacco. And Joe. And Joe and Kenny helped him. And all the women and children too. Some running around and some wishing for other things. I remember the oak tree's fingers above my mid-day eyes, the line of green that separated the dirt field from the fencerow. For a 4-H project, my brother and I raised a half-acre ourselves. Daddy got sick spraying tobacco for the budworm. He puked his guts out almost and somebody took him to the hospital. They gave him saline flush and other things. A cash crop, right.
- "Smoke, Spit, Chew" by Laressa Dickey. Reprinted here with permission from the author. Dickey had this to say about the poem:
My dad raised tobacco for the first 10 or so years of my life, so the cycles of my childhood were marked by the growth cycles (of all growing things, but mostly tobacco). It was such an amazing process to watch and then to be a part of because much our small community came together to help each other, and frankly, it's a lot of work! The harsh chemical process really impacted my dad's body every summer. The poem is a small attempt to honor the complicated web of feelings I have about tobacco growing, about making a living off the land, about being a part of a working community--while also being an imaginative, idealistic and impressionable girl.
Know of a Minnesota poet whose work you'd like to see here? Just let me know.
Louis Jenkins was born in Enid, Oklahoma but has lived in Duluth for over 30 years with his wife Ann. His poems have been published in a number of literary magazines and anthologies and he's been a guest on A Prairie Home Companion numerous times. His book Nice Fish won the Minnesota Book Award in 1995. And Jenkins has this odd claim to fame; Actor Mark Rylance read Jenkins' poetry for his acceptance speech after winning a Tony Award for the play Boeing-Boeing.
Here's a prose poem by Jenkins from his book Before You Know It, a collection of his works spanning 35 years.
The Prose Poem
The prose poem is not a real poem, of course.
One of the major differences is that the prose
poet is incapable, either too lazy or too stupid,
of breaking the poem into lines. But all writing,
even the prose poem, involves a certain amount
of skill, just the way throwing a wad of paper,
say, into a wastebasket at a distance of twenty
feet, requires a certain skill, a skill that, though
it may improve hand-eye coordination, does not
lead necessarily to an ability to play basketball.
Still it takes practice and thus gives one a way
to pass the time, chucking one paper after an-
other at the basket, while the teacher drones on
about the poetry of Tennyson.
- "The Prose Poem" by Louis Jenkins, as it appears in Before You Know It, published by Will O' The Wilsp Books. Reprinted here with permission from the author.
While G.E. Patterson's poetry evokes clear and precise imagery, finding something detailed to say about the poet himself is a challenge. A search of the web draws up the following biography:
G.E. Patterson grew up in the middle of the country along the Mississippi River and was educated in the mid-South, the Midwest, the Northeast, and the western United States.
Fortunately, Patterson's poetry needs no pedigree to prove its worth. Here's a poem from Tug.
The Lord let me know early in the day
trouble was coming when He sent a woman
toward me in a tight dress, snapping gum
and working her hips hard. He turned her head
to the right just as I moved close enough
to say hello. She wasn't all that fine,
but I sure could have used a different start
to my day. Seven A.M. and no love.
The Lord followed up fast with a black man
in a red, double-breasted suit and shoes
with monkstraps. Their high shine sent the sunlight
straight into my eyes, blinding me. The dog
patrolling the front yard where I passed them
tried to run me away from his fence, snarling.
I stared at God's signs. Here's what you can't have:
A regular woman, nice clothes, peace.
My hand in my pocket, fingering change.
- "Job" by G.E. Patterson, as printed by Graywolf Press in the collection Tug. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
It's been fun to watch Todd Boss' first book of poetry Yellowrocket take off like, well, a rocket (better that than to compare it to yellowrocket itself, which is a weed!). I've known Boss for years through his job as PR Director for the Playwrights' Center, but never would have suspected the man with the high energy, smiling eyes and great story pitch was also the source of beautiful poetry springing from deep introspection and more than a few dark days.
Ere We Are Aware
we err. We err
in open air, dare-
devil as a swallow's
swerve. We err
with verve. Our errors serve
as we flare and dive
We scare away our lovers
a territory where before
there wasn't any.
Later we share our feelings.
sorry. Swear to be
Oh, we show our showy words
and then, in a flurry of ever
braver aerials, there
we are again,
famished birds wheeling
- "Ere We Are Aware" by Todd Boss, as it appears in his collection Yellowrocket, published by W. W. Norton. Reprinted here with permission from the author.
Jude Nutter took home the Minnesota Book Award for poetry this weekend with her collection "I Wish I Had A Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman" in which she revises Whitman's civil war poems using contemporary and female perspectives. Nutter was born North Yorkshire, England, and grew up in northern Germany. She has been living and working in Minneapolis since 1998. Here's a poem from her award winning collection, called "The Ledger."
Imagine if everything the Buddha claimed is true and all
things external are illusions. But who wants a world,
illusion or not, in which a witness can sit all day
on the banks of the Kagera watching bodies
from the war in Rwanda coming over the falls
and then later describe how they never once appeared
to be really dead: they looked, he said, like swimmers
because strong currents invested them with the power
of movement. The past might be over
but it's never done with. Leave them in peace,
said Stalin of his favourite scientists who were lost
in projects important to the state; we can kill them
later. History: a ledger of atrocities. Remember
those who never ceased trying
to undermine the rhetoric of governments: Goya
at the end of his life--deaf and lonely but still
bearing witness, painting directly onto the walls
of his country house outside Madrid. It is said
that after Goya there were no more innocent rifles in art,
no more sticks uttering puffs of smoke and fire. Remember
Ed Murrow, live from Buchenwald after liberation.
For most of it, he said, I have no words. For most of it.
Not all of it. Murder, he said, rags and remnants.
I looked out, he said, over the mass of men to the green
fields beyond. A ledger of atrocities. Another hostage, another
smart bomb gone astray in the market; collateral
damage and acceptable losses and somewhere one more child
dead before it can be named; and for millions, home
the place they are homesick for, even as they live there.
Here and there, the ragings of art: a ledger of atrocities. History.
- "The Ledger" by Jude Nutter, as published in her collection I Wish I Had a Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman, published by University of Notre Dame Press.
Tim Brennan lives in Austin with wife Jaci and sons Alex & Max. He has taught secondary English for 25 years and his poetry has appeared in several journals. Brennan's poem "dreaming of Emily Dickinson" was selected for What Light, a poetry anthology put out by mnartists.org
dreaming of Emily Dickinson
i sometimes dream
of Emily Dickinson,
her seemingly stoic
speaking of lost love:
flies buzzing, yellow halos,
new shoes in Eden
secretly, she was a woman
i once loved even though
she didn't know,
wouldn't have known what
to do even if she had known
she was my home town,
all my favorite places
walkin in her streets,
i would have died for her Beauty,
instead i died for her Truth
today i saw a woman
who reminded me of her
i wanted to tell her
it was she who touched
my face and found me there
- "dreaming of Emily Dickinson" by Tim J Brennan as published in What Light: A poetry anthology from mnartists.org. Printed here with permission from the publisher.
Diane Pecoraro, has always said that her goal is to craft short accessible poems. To that end, she writes both humorous light verse and poems which are more serious in tone. Themes such as urban life, human interaction, and immigrant issues interest her. She has a lifelong interest in art, so landscape is a subject which inspires many lines. For occasions, she likes to create playful songs and rhymes.
Pecoraro has been writing since she was a young teenager in New York. She has participated as a reader at numerous poetry events. Her work was included in an anthology (Charlotte's Table) nominated for a 2005 MN Book Award.
Recently, Pecoraro was named Community Poet of St. Louis Park. As part of her duties, she's participating in the city's "Our Town, Verses and Voices" project, which is bringing people of different backgrounds together in seven community workshops to write and share their favorite poetry. From those submitted, Pecoraro will select 12 poems for the city's 2011 calendar, and the community will create a renga, or collaborative poem. Find out more information about the St. Louis Park project here.
Chicago Morning Irony
The titans of trade,
Wanamaker and Ward,
Macy and Woolworth,
reign opposite The Merchandise Mart*
their sculpted busts perched on columns
in a row high above the Chicago River.
These men made money and retail history
brought goods across America and taught America
to consume those goods. They elevated peddling
from cart to multi-floor emporium,
elevated drawings of finery to catalog art.
On this day when the Dow drops 400 points
and the future of buy- and- sell is in limbo,
I sip coffee in a cafe opposite
imagining that such news might etch a few lines of worry
on the bronze foreheads of each of these nobles.
Reality intrudes on reverie.
A band of city pigeons lands
and does its collective pigeon business.
Droppings dribble down a bald pate,
rivulets flow over a sculpted cheek ,
white graffittis the elegant ear of a third.
No exemption for the wealthy:
Even the great are not immune in
an alien storm.
*The epicenter for high design and luxury goods, the Merchandise Mart is the world's largest commercial building, largest wholesale design center and one of Chicago's premier international business locations. The Mart spans two city blocks and rises 25 stories.
- "Chicago Morning Irony," by Diane Pecoraro. Printed here with permission from the author.(4 Comments)
Ray Gonzalez is the author of ten books of poetry, two collections of short stories, and three collections of short essays. For a time he also published the work of other poets under the moniker "Mesilla Press." Raised in El Paso, Texas, much of his work draws from his Mexican ancestry, as well as his memories of growing up in the American southwest. Gonzalez is a professor in the MFA Creative Writing Program at the University of Minnesota. His most recent book of poetry Faith Run, is a finalist for the 2010 Minnesota Book Award for Poetry, an award he's won twice before. Here's a poem from that collection, which
places finds a Minnesota music legend in the heart of Gonzalez' old haunting ground.
Bob Dylan in El Paso, 1963
Bob Dylan passed through my hometown
to cross into Juárez, Mexico.
He used the Stanton Street Bridge that
arched over the river and led to the red lights.
When he sang, "They got some hungry
women there, and they'll really make a mess
out of you," my buddies and I knew the place,
the high school ritual of having to go there
to find Dylan and his shadow going upstairs.
Dylan must have had breakfast somewhere
in El Paso, because you could never cross
without a good set of huevos and tortillas
churning inside you, ready to explode in
the sunrise colors of a frontier dream.
Dylan sang, "When you're lost in the rain
in Juárez and it's Easter time, too,"
and I searched for the mission where
he might have knelt and prayed, entered
to find statues of saints, draped in dark
colors like a waiting concert stage.
It didn't matter that he was Jewish, because
all men going into the Juárez night
have to kneel and pray sometime.
Dylan sang, "I started out on burgundy,
but soon hit the harder stuff," and
I bought a bottle of mescal in Juárez
for him, the worm at the bottom of
the round jar still there after 45 years,
the black liquid churning dreams Dylan
had when he entered The Cave, the name
of the legendary cantina etched on
tamale leaves Dylan left on his plate.
Bob passed through my hometown
after he left Juárez.
His shadow is still there, appearing every
now and then in profile on the mountain
surrounding the town, the only El Pasoans
who know it is him growing fewer in number
because the silver raven has taken many of
them away, though there is a rumor
The Cave is still open for business,
the women waiting, the most popular
bedroom half paradise-half museum
because one of the dirty adobe walls has
writing in faded lipstick that says,
"Zimmerman was here."
- "Bob Dylan in El Paso, 1963" by Ray Gonzalez, as it appears in his collection of poems Faith Run. Reprinted here with permission from The University of Arizona Press.
Freya Manfred grew up in western Minnesota, near Pipestone, where she gained the love of the natural world. Daughter of artist Frederick Manfred, her memoir of him was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award. She now lives with her husband, screenwriter Thomas Pope, and her twin sons, on Bass Lake near Hudson, Wisconsin.
Her published poetry books are: A Goldenrod Will Grow (Groveland Press), Yellow Squash Woman (Thorp Springs Press), American Roads (Overlook/Viking), Flesh and Blood (Red Dragonfly Press), My Only Home (Red Dragonfly Press), and Swimming With A Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle (Red Dragonfly Press). Nature and the outdoor world, as well as the relationships between human beings -- family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers -- are the primary subjects of her work.
The Owl Cries at Night
The owl cries at night,
and I imagine her wide gold eyes
and feathered ears tuned
to the trembling woods and waters,
seeing and hearing what
I will never see or hear:
a red fox with one bloody paw,
a hunch-backed rabbit running,
sand grains grating on the shore,
a brown leaf crackling
under a brown mouse foot.
With so much to learn,
I could stop writing forever,
and still live well.
- Freya Manfred's "The Owl Cries at Night," as it appears in her collection Swimming with a Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle, published by Red Dragonfly Press. Reprinted here with permission from the author.
Leslie Adrienne Miller has published several books of poetry, including "Eat Quite Everything You See" and "The Resurrection Trade." A professor of English at the University of St. Thomas, Miller combines old world imagery and academia with modern day sensibilities and earthly desires. Her poem "The Dead Send Their Gardener" struck me in particular because of the contrast between the extremely "alive" gardener, and the ghostly presence of the couple whose roses he tends.
The Dead Send Their Gardener
He arrives in the courtyard with two cartons
of juice, each of which he'll tip and drain
at one go in the heat, and a sack of food
for the roses. He looms over his tools,
blond and dusty as a stalk of ripe wheat,
surely someone's prized lover. Centuries
bask among his hybrid teas, and he shakes
his capable handfuls of food into their beds
until nothing but roses nose the blues between lake
and garden, lake and sky, the lapse of lawn
where a party could be if those who lived here once
returned to pour the wine. She'd be the sort
to tuck a bud behind her ear, and he to catch
one in his teeth. But alas we're guests
of the present, expectant and sultry; all
graciousness is fled, and rain fills the spent
blooms, tumbles their tops, weighted with ruffles
and shocks of pink. The gardener too disappears
with his breeches the color of mustard and cinched
with a string, gone back into the pages of Hardy
or Lawrence. Perhaps, he'll appear again Tuesday next,
but he won't look any of us living in the eye.
- "The Dead Send Their Gardener" by Leslie Adrienne Miller, as it appears in The Resurrection Trade. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher, Graywolf Press.
Jim Moore is the author of six collections of poetry, including Lightning at Dinner, The Freedom of History, and The Long Experience of Love. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, the Nation, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, the Threepenny Review, the Pushcart Prize Anthology, and in many other magazines and anthologies. Moore has received numerous awards and fellowships from the Bush Foundation, The Loft, the McKnight Foundation, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. He teaches at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and at The Colorado College in Colorado Springs, as well as online through the University of Minnesota Split Rock Arts Program. He is married to the photographer JoAnn Verburg. They live in Saint Paul, Minnesota and Spoleto, Italy.
A Summer Afternoon, Venice
You feel how good it is,
this earth, sitting on the cool bridge
made of shadows
that swings between pine tree and church.
Pigeons search through the dry grass,
diligent, working their turf.
If, at 44, you begin to learn
you are not, after all, the point of the world,
what then? The bells ring 6 pm,
the shadows no longer just a bridge,
but a road widening into darkness
and the night beyond. Everyone
is going for a walk on that road
one time soon, if not here
where the roads are made of water,
then somewhere else, somewhere equally strange,
some tide-lulled Venice of the brain.
There is a moment when our empires fade to nothing at last.
Where once we had stood ashamed,
unable to understand our place in the universe,
now moonlight is there, shining its bridge across the open water.
"A Summer Afternoon, Venice" in A Freedom of History by Jim Moore (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1993). Copyright © 1993 by Jim Moore. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.
James Armstrong is the author of Blue Lash, a collection of poems that examines the power and allure of Lake Superior. The book is divided into three parts: "North of Duluth," "Isle Royale," and "South Shore." Author Louis Jenkins wrote of Armstrong's work: "These poems have the handcrafted precision of a wooden skiff built by a master boatbuilder, rugged and durable yet light, quick, and capable of covering great distances." Armstrong is currently a professor of English at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota.
It's a city like a shabby amphitheater
where the lake does summer stock
among old granaries and ore docks:
dinner theater, romantic comedies,
dance numbers out of Captain January.
The big ships lurk like Homeric props:
like the lobster traps
in a Midwestern fish restaurant.
But winter is highbrow: marathon
stagings of Strindberg and Beckett,
obscure operas in the minimalist mode,
the bare proscenium extending to the horizon,
the chorus in white robes,
the north wind singing the same note over and over
until the ticket holders
want to go home
and kill themselves.
-- "Duluth" in Blue Lash by James Armstrong (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2006). Copyright © 2006 by James Armstrong. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.
Wang Ping was born in Shanghai and grew up on a small island in the China Sea. After three years of field work on a rural commune, she attended Beijing University. In 1985, she left the People's Republic of China to study in the United States, and earned her Ph.D. from New York University. She's the author of numerous collections of short stories and poetry, including "Of Flesh & Spirit" and "The Magic Whip." She teaches at Macalester College.
Like swans lifting from the river in frozen mist,
like the first ice splitting the shore of Lake Superior,
you took a step, then another.
A laughing Ariel!
Your smile is not a mask but a shrieking delight--
a horizon expanding
between your wobbling feet.
The meadow is full of traps--
long-stemmed flowers, spiky grass,
lumps of soil, rocks.
A gust of wind blew your cap,
sent it rolling toward the sea.
a crowd of angels cradled in your bosom,
into the arms of air, wind, sun, earth ...
without looking back.
-- "First Step" by Wang Ping, as it appeared in The Magic Whip. Reprinted with permission from Coffee House Press.
Dobby Gibson's book of poetry Skirmish documents his own wrestling with the written word. Fortunately for us, those battles result in some lovely imagery. Skirmish is one of four collections of poetry nominated for a Minnesota Book Award this year. You can find out more about Gibson here.
Skyscraper National Park
Fake trees never grow in the lobbies
not known for any bird or breeze.
Just outside the revolving doors,
smokers stand beneath tiny clouds
and plot their revenge.
Their children are at home,
ordering their feelings over the Internet,
charging them to the credit cards they were given
for keeping spring break domestic this year.
Secretly beneath skirts, secretaries' thongs
slice through the Minneapolis night.
Refrigerated trucks shuttle what's left
of cattle carcasses into the industrial plant.
Above the national forest of television antennae,
unmanned spy drones migrate south,
looking for someplace to rest.
Like birds, they invented flying
to find something new to eat.
-- "Skyscraper National Park" by Dobby Gibson, from his collection of poems Skirmish. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher, Graywolf Press.
Joanna Rawson's collection of poems unrest is one of four books of poetry nominated for this year's Minnesota Book Awards. unrest is billed as a series of "restless meditations on American life, political borders, lawlessness, parenthood, and the spaces where the natural world and human turmoil come into conflict." You may have read Rawson's work, either as a poet or a journalist, in City Pages or Utne Reader. Rawson also works as a Master Gardener in Northfield, Minnesota.
I can't seduce these raucous birds.
Or sneak up on a willow while they riot there.
Look--even my shadow's a suspect in this dark.
I can't approach without startling from them
an insurgent cursing that gusts and stutters down the trunk.
The weeping limbs ripple in alert as if they've been started by wind
that steals through thistle toward their camp.
I can't manage to net them in my grip.
I can't seem to accomplish any sort of government,
any hold over these unruly crows who nest in rags
and scream at the blowback their quarrelsome cries.
Still, they allow me to stay in the vicinity--
many nights, right here among them, as they activate the dust
and carry on disturbing the perilous air.
Even in their mercy, I believe they understand
my wanting to end their song.
-- "Wind Camp" by Joanna Rawson, as published in her collection of poems unrest. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher, Graywolf Press.
Greg Hewett teaches American literature and creative writing at Carleton College. He has written
three four books of poetry: To Collect the Flesh, Red Suburb , The Eros Conspiracy and darkacre. His poem "Modern Living" is one of several published in Red Suburb that turn a sardonic eye on the era of his youth and the initial idealism of the suburbs.
It was all so modern then
when everything was so
modern. Low-slung homes
arranged in neighborhoods of
cul-de-sacs, endless front
lawns, shrubs cut like onyx.
With the whoosh of sliding
glass we came pouring out
from family rooms as big as ships
to shoot up high
into the stratosphere
bright balsa-wood rockets
we hoped would land
in a blue-eye
swimming pool with
a triumphant splash.
Now these patios and pools are pitted
and cracked. Hunks of concrete
lie in yards of crabgrass.
The perfect yews have winter burn,
have taken on gothic shapes.
They tower above the split-
levels like shadows with lives
of their own. They threaten
picture windows as if
everyone has simply grown tired
of the perfect view.
-- "Modern Living" by Greg Hewett, as it appears in Red Suburb, published by Coffee House Press.
Éireann Lorsung's poetry reflects a love of craft; not just the craft of poetry, but her love of textiles, dressmaking, and paper. Lorsung's artistic talents are not limited to being a wordsmith; she also used to have her own line of clothing and now creates prints and drawings. Lorsung was born in Minneapolis and earned in MFA in writing and her BAs in English and Japanese from the University of Minnesota. You can find out more about Lorsung at her website, ohbara.com.
When are you coming back to stand in front of the window?
(I heard you whistling last night. Cars pass me by all day,
waves circling the enormous globe.)
So much is left out, I'm knitting a pattern without
stitches, without needles, only long fingerbones
to carry yarn. There was something buried
the night I left Eau Claire for good, and I never knew
how it would grow. Now your childhood friends
are my students, I walk past houses you lived in
without my knowledge and your scent trails
from abondoned bakeries. Whole warehouses
have been invented to catalogue want like this.
I go on knitting night and day because I don't know
any other thing. All unknits by darkness
into twine birds use piece by piece. What secret
name can I call you? What adventure are you on tonight?
There is forgetting in the density of raw new wool,
yarn shop one block from your apartment,
the cheap scarf - you don't value things
because you never make them. Moon over the whitening world
sharpens spindle, windowframe. The sash
is pulled, seam is set: without material, there is no map.
"Knitting" in music for landing planes by by Éireann Lorsung (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Éireann Lorsung. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.
News of basketball pro Lindsay Whalen's return to Minnesota immediately reminded me of this poem by Stephen Burt. Burt taught from 2000 to 2007 at Macalester College in St. Paul (he now resides in the English Department at Harvard University). He's also a big fan of women's basketball. While in Minnesota, Burt followed the U of M Gophers as Whalen led them to the NCAA Final Four while nursing a broken hand. It inspired "For Lindsay Whalen."
For Lindsay Whalen
You only have the skills that you can use.
The shots you make surround you like a breeze.
When someone wins, then someone has to lose.
You don't show off. We know you by your moves:
A feint, a viewless pass, a perfect tease
Make space for all the skills that you can use.
Defenders and their shadows, three on two,
Start at you like infuriated bees:
You glide through them. You take the looks they lose.
As serious as science, picking clues
And dodges that no other player sees,
You find the skills that only you could use:
Applause, then silence. Scrape of distant shoes.
Then race through packed periphery to free
Space no one lifts a hand to. - Win or lose,
Such small decisions, run together, fuse
In concentration nothing like the ease
We seem to see in all the skills you use,
Til someone wins. Then someone else will lose.
"For Lindsay Whalen" by Stephen Burt, from his collection Parallel Play published by Graywolf Press. Printed here with permission from the publisher. Burt is also the author of a book poetry criticism, called Close Calls with Nonsense.
Sun Yung Shin was born in Seoul, South Korea and grew up in Chicago. Her collection of poems Skirt Full of Black explores the Korean-American experience. She's also the co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writings on Transracial Adoption, and author of Cooper's Lesson, a bilingual Korean/English illustrated book for children. She lives in Minneapolis. You can find out more about her and her work here.
It was to be a permanent set, with permanent players
Take my hand and look, look at the costumes
pretending to be real clothes
No one had told them
Now here is a wool coat with no shoulders
Pinholes of army green
Punctuation with no words
A silk tie but no neck
An oven but no roast
Tea waits forever in its canister to release its perfume
Here is the roll of tickets
Pretending to be useful money
Here is the fruit from this, its own country
Its flesh still stippled as if painted
Here are the flies jewelling the windowsill
Imitating the necklace and earrings nestled in a box inlaid with mother-of-pearl
And look, child, here on the dining room table,
Can you just see?
Plates still around, like blind mirrors, like four open mouths---o
-- "The House" in Skirt Full of Black, by Sun Yung Shin (Coffee House Press, 2007). Reprinted with permission from Coffee House Press.
Have a Minnesota poet or poem you'd like to recommend? Feel free to send your ideas my way.(2 Comments)
With the arrival of a new year comes the beginning of a new project. I have dubbed 2010 "Year of the Minnesota Poet" on State of the Arts, and each Monday, plan to print here (with permission of the publisher and/or the poet), a work by a local author.
The project (to give credit where credit is due) is inspired by PBS' blog "Artbeat" which also posts a weekly poem. However Arbeat draws from the entire nation's poetry archive; I find Minnesota has more than enough on offer to satisfy my needs. In fact 52 poems hardly do justice to the amount of great work that has sprung from our cold but fertile midwestern soil... so if this project takes root, you may see it continue on into the future.
Our series begins with a poem from Bill Holm, of Minneota, Minnesota. He died ten months ago, before his book of new and selected poems "The Chain Letter of the Soul" was published. Here's his poem "Gait," courtesy of Milkweed Editions.
As a boy, I remember seeing the old
clumping their slow way along Minneota streets,
shuffling, wobbling, cane taps, hunched backs,
as if each step triggered a shooting pain.
Repulsive, I thought, why can't they move
not like an insect, but like something still alive.
I scurried around them, peeved at their dawdling.
But I forgot them, continued my adventures.
Now they are all dead. A half century after,
I've been practicing my personal shuffle,
tempo shrunk from allegro to largo,
tapping the cane to find dry places on the ice,
O Gunnar, Steingrimur, Avy, Abo,
forgive the ignorant and idiotic boy
who did not notice the intricate steps
of the last dance until he practiced himself.
"Gait" in The Chain Letter of the Soul, by Bill Holm (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2009). Copyright © 2009 by Bill Holm. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.