Writing Minnesota Robert HedinPhoto: Alex Kolyer

Robert Hedin: "What the train and the river were saying, no one could understand."

Born and raised in Red Wing, Minnesota, Robert Hedin spent decades living in places like Alaska, France, and North Carolina. "Like a lot of Midwestern writers, I needed to get away before I realized that my real subject was where I had spent a great portion of my life," Hedin said.

It wasn't until middle age that the Midwest began to play a prominent role in Hedin's poetry. Now, his writing shares a strong kinship with many Midwestern writers. His themes include "home, loss and reclamation, family life, and, above all," Hedin noted, "our proper place in the natural world."

Hedin is the author, translator, and editor of twenty-three volumes of poetry and prose, including "The Old Liberators: New and Selected Poems and Translations," "Where One Voice Ends Another Begins: 150 Years of Minnesota Poetry," and "The Dream We Carry: Selected and Last Poems of Olav H. Hauge."

Awards for his work include three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, two Minnesota Book Awards, the Loft Poetry of Distinction Award, a Bush Foundation Fellowship, a McKnight Foundation Fellowship, and fellowships from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the North Carolina Arts Council. He has served as poet-in-residence at the University of Alaska, St. Olaf College, and Wake Forest University. In 2000-2001, he served as the Edelstein-Keller Minnesota Writer of Distinction at the University of Minnesota.

Hedin is co-founder and current director of the Anderson Center, an artist retreat center in Red Wing, and co-edits Great River Review. His work has been published in numerous journals and anthologies throughout the country and has been featured on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, National Public Radio's All Things Considered, and Ted Kooser's nationally syndicated column American Life in Poetry. Forthcoming books in 2011 include "Poems Prose Poems" and "The Lure-Maker from Posio: Prose Poems by Dag T. Straumsvag."

Hedin's poem "The Wreck of the Great Northern" appears in "The Old Liberators: New and Selected Poems and Translations" (Holy Cow! Press, 1998). Many thanks to the publisher for giving permission to reprint the poem here.


Robert HedinPhoto: Alex Kolyer

Where the Great Northern plunged in
The river boiled with light, and we all stood
In the tall grass staring at a tangle
Of track, and four orange coaches
And one Pullman lying under the current,
Turning the current clear.  We stood staring
As though it had been there all along
And was suddenly thrust up out of the weeds
That night as a blessing, as a long sleek hallway
Dropping off into fields we'd never seen,
Into the pastures of some great god
Who sent back our steers too heavy to move,
All bloated and with green seaweed strung down
Their horns.  And we all looked down
Into the lit cars at businessmen
And wives, already back to breathing water,
And saw in the cold clear tanks of the Pullman
A small child the size of my son, a porter's
White jacket, a nylon floating gracefully
As an eel.
                   What the train and the river
Were saying, no one could understand.
We just stood there, breathing what was left
Of the night.  How still the cars were,
How sleek, shimmering through the undertow.
And I saw the trees around us blossomed out,
The wind had come back and was blowing
Through the tall empty grass, through the high
Grain fields, the wind was rattling
The dry husks of corn.