Friday, May 17, 2013
Darkness Sticks to Everything
I first read poems by Tom Hennen in his first book, The Heron With No Business Sense, which was published in 1974 by Minnesota Writers' Publishing House (and is included in Darkness Sticks to Everything). Hennen lived for many years in the area of Morris, Minnesota, and has written many poems growing out of his living and working on farms and in nature areas. Poems of quiet observation of the details of nature, rabbit tracks, grass touched by breeze, mouse burrows, the way leaves cling to tree branches and then fall, the way ice forms and thaws on a stream, the change in the light as the seasons move. The earth is always a living presence in Tom Hennen's poems.
From the poem "Minneapolis" (all quoted passages here are taken from Darkness Sticks to Everything):
The swamp has become a supermarket overnight.
A heron with no business sense
The hungry man from the woods
Feeds on loose change
Like a parking meter.
The smokestacks sink into the ground.
Underground the soot changes hands.
The night shift moves slowly
Emitting a dim light from their mole eyes.
Many of Hennen's poems are brief, almost tiny, quick glimpses of a scene or a moment. And always with a tactile, kinetic quality, catching image and motion at once.
Soaks the fur of wild things.
A smell of wet lumber is everywhere.
The night sways slightly
Tied to the dock.
(From the poem "Night near the Lake.")
"The night sways slightly / Tied to the dock." How many times I've stood by a lake at night and felt that same kind of movement. Remarkable.
Tom Hennen has a patient and gentle humor that surfaces from time to time in his poems, the way a friend will make an offhand amusing comment in a conversation. On the prairie, much of the life goes on beneath the ground, or in the area just a few inches above the ground. From the poem "Independent Existence":
A willow leaf
Drops on the water
And is immediately still.
Autumn air penetrates the ground.
Wind hums endlessly
To the tangled grass.
When things happen here
There is no urge to put them on TV.
Amid the daily storm and clatter of corporate news media panic, the constant wolf-crying of CNN "breaking news," Tom Hennen's poems are a warm remedy.
In his poems Tom Hennen is always sooner or later acting with the natural world, always approaching closer, one way or another seeking a meeting place of human beings and the earth we live on, listening for the uncounted languages that move constantly around us and through us.
A lone goose call drifted down
Lightly as a feather falling.
I jumped the fence
To fetch the cows for evening milking.
On the hill above the still pond I sang,
Ka Bas, Ka Bas.
The only Latin my father taught me
As I learned the dreamy habits of animals.
They came, as always, past the pond
As if truly happy to hear my voice.
The bristly hair on their backs
Lit golden by the sun
Just when dark mist began to rise
Around their cold hooves.
(From the poem "Country Latin.")
Darkness Sticks to Everything includes poems from perhaps forty years or more of Tom Hennen's life. The more recent sections of the book include many prose poems, with the looser longer-moving rhythms that prose poems can allow, though still with the careful patient detailed observation that infuses his earlier poems. Sometimes I'm just astonished at the things he sees. From the prose poem "Outdoor Photos":
Find a quiet rain. Then a green spruce tree. You will notice that nearly every needle has been decorated with a tiny raindrop ornament. Look closely inside the drop and there you are. In color. Upside down. The raindrop has no instructions to flup us right-side up. People, dogs, muskrats, woods, and hill, whatever fits, heads down like quail from a hunter's belt. Raindrops have been collecting snapshots since objects and people were placed, to their surprise, here and there on earth.
The book includes an enthusiastic Introduction by poet Jim Harrison, and an insightful Afterword by poet Thomas R. Smith which gives more information about Hennen's life and how his poems have come into the world. I also love the the cover art, a painting by Susan Bennerstrom of grain silos in a green field under dark turbulent clouds. The weather is a constant companion and force of life with anyone who lives in the vast land of plains that reaches across the inland of North America.
During July on the prairie
The pine tree stands alone on the main street
Of a disintegrating country town.
Its needles pump all day,
Still it cannot turn all the passing carbon monoxide
Into anything useful. [...]
[...] The island in the lake drifts even farther from shore.
The afternoon begins its insect hum.
We can tell a storm is coming
By looking into each other's lies.
(From the poem "Clouds Rise Like Fish.")
Friday, May 10, 2013
In the name of humanity
The article is an effective and articulate critique of reactionary attempts by "Language" poets, writers of "conceptual" poetry, and related sorts to deny the existence and possibility of an identifiable viewpoint or perspective in poetry.
The article further outlines some of the ways in which the denial of a subjective point of view in poetry essentially echoes attempts by capitalist institutions to silence and invalidate the rights and identity of workers. As much "conceptual" poetry and its relatives attempt to turn poems into mere objects empty of existence, capitalism similarly attempt to turn workers into interchangeable objects to be used.
A little of the above is my own take on some of what Sutherland says on the topic. Sutherland's article is here.
Thanks also to poet blogger Joseph Hutchison, in whose blog The Perpetual Bird I found a link to Sutherland's article.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
A book of the living
The Mississippi Book of the Dead, written in 78 five-line stanzas, is a kind of series of snapshots and inner narrative of the poet traveling by land along the length of the Mississippi River, seeking a connection (or reconnection) with the earth and an opening (or reopening) of spirit. The journey begins in northern Minnesota at the source of the river, and ends in the Louisiana delta and islands sometime after hurricane Katrina had come through.
A couple of stanzas from early in the poem, numbered, as all the stanzas are:
For months I've been rutabaga broth,
stewing in retirement's kettle.
I'll drive the Great River Road,
which snakes beside the Mississippi,
through swamps and drizzle and red pines.
When I trekked Nepal in '81,
after visiting Katmandu temples,
I met a man who walked all India
from the tip to the Chinese border.
He carried but a bedroll and a book.
Through the journey of the poem, Young comes to grips with much pain and loss, the accounting of choices, the texture of a life. These are not journal entries, but the raw stuff of observation, seeing through the poet's eye.
The ground is trembling from nighttime explosions
at Fort Ripley's artillery range.
I never went to Nam, but Roger,
Steve and Dennis came back,
and blew themselves away, one way or another.
Pig's Eye is a riverside waste plant.
Prisons hunker up and down this River.
I'm not really a pilgrim
like Parsifal or Quixote,
but a rosary of sorrow twists in my head.
How different the view of a place, close up and at ground level. How different from the floodlit gloss of CNN babble and budget "debates" in Washington. A stroke of a pen, a backroom deal, a few votes here and there, can land with iron weight on the lives of untold numbers of people in the heartland of a nation.
The Gateway Arch is a man-made rainbow.
My half-breed ancestor passed through Missouri
as a wagon train scout with Forty-Niners.
My great-great-gramps never found his pot-o-gold.
His petty wife abandoned him and her children.
It could say "Pompeii," but it's Herculaneum,
a Civil War city with lead smelters.
Even today the green leaves are heavy.
Every empire feeds on poison and lead,
civil wars bullets and death.
Razorwire cuddles the Menard Prison
near the coffin carrier's town of Chester.
I watch the sun die on Missouri flats,
where a pioneer town drowned in the river.
An otter sprawls dead-ahead on the road.
The poem approaches a kind of climax, or pivotal turn, as Young relates staying with a friend in New Orleans, Dr. Robert Roberts; in a note at the front of the book, Young tells how Roberts has worked to hellp prison inmates in Louisiana make their way back into life outside of prison. Tim Young himself worked for many years in Minnesota as an educator in a juvenile prison.
At one point in the poem, Young describes accompanying Roberts on some of the work Roberts does in the community:
Robert buys an extra lunch to deliver
to the homeless in the French Quarter.
"Look at their shoes. You can tell who's hungry."
They are sandstorms and snowdrifts banking,
against doorways or trash piles in the alleys.
A backstreet trinity sits on a stoop,
sharing silence and a liter of beer.
One looks beaten, but his cheeks are tattooed
like an insane clown in a hip-hop posse.
"Is that the One where Spirit hides? Let's do it."
With the meal from Picadilly's
I ask the clown, "Sir, could you use a meal?"
"Yes, thank you." "And could you use some cash?"
His voice becomes real, "God Bless You."
Robert tells me, "The changing voice proves his spirit."
In the long winter of corporate media silliness and academic murk, in the blizzard of military strutting and the slashing of budgets for food stamps and public housing, amid the stock market feeding frenzies and home foreclosures gift card points and software upgrades, Tim Young's book The Mississippi Book of the Dead offers a real voice, a presences of spirit, the touch of the earth. We need this book.
The sky's red over Marion, and the moon's out,
and I watch the first bright dawn in weeks.
Parked in Love's Gas Station,
I watch thousands upon thousands,
of snow geese fly into the sunrise.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Review of All Through the Night
My thanks to John Bradley for the review, and to Bob Edwards, editor of Pemmican, for publishing it.
All Through the Night is available from the publisher Red Dragonfly Press. The publisher's ordering page for the book is here.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
AWP in Boston
The best event I went to was a panel celebrating the life and work of poet Muriel Ruykeyser. The panelists who were able to attend were poet Olga Broumas, poet Sharon Olds, and the moderator Jan Freeman (publisher of Paris Press, which has reissued several of Rukeyser's works in recent years). Poets Galway Kinnell and Michael S. Harper were also scheduled to be on the panel, but were unable to make it there because of a two-day-long snowstorm in New England on Thursday and Friday during the conference.
The Rukeyser panel was beautiful, transcendent, one of the greatest things I've ever been to. Jan Freeman read from Rukeyser's great prose book The Life of Poetry, a wide-ranging exploration of the social and psychological forces that shape and affect poetry, and the importance and uses of poetry in the world. Broumas talked about her encounters with Rukeyser's poetry, the importances of Rukeyser's work in her own poetry, and she then read Galway Kinnell's poem "Jubilate" which (among other things) describes a poetry reading Rukeyser did in the last years of her life, during which Rukeyser suffered a stroke but insisted on finishing the reading.
Sharon Olds gave a deeply personal moving account of having been in a class Rukeyser taught in New York, a "poetry appreciation" class (rather than a writing workshop, though I have no doubt some people in the class wrote poems). She talked about Rukeyser's warm open welcoming presence, her deep understanding of what might be possible, her bearing and posture when she stood in the room, her strong speaking and reading voice.
Someplace in there Jan Freeman read notes Michael Harper had sent, that he had intended to use during the panel.
Toward the end of the event, a couple of the panelists commented that the discussion during the panel kept tending toward a recognition of the erotically alive qualities of Rukeyser's poetry and other writing -- this in particular, of the many facets her writing exhibits, political consciousness, compassion, scientific acumen, a strong democratic and communial oppenness to possibilities.
The panel took place in a large room, filled end to end with rapt listeners. I'm not sure if I would quite describe the mood in the room as ecstatic, but it was at least elated. People applauded continuously. William Rukeyser, Muriel Rukeyer's son, was in the room, and at one point he stood briefly as Jan Freeman introduced him.
I attended two other really good panels.One was about Nazim Hikmet, the great 20th century Communist poet of Turkey.Panelists included Sidney Wade, Dorianne Laux, David Wojahn, his longtime translators Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, and two other people whose names aren't listed in the AWP website and I unfortunately didn't note down. The panelists talked mostly about how and when they first encountered Hikmet's poetry, and its importance to them in their own work. The panelist were warm and enthusiastic in their comments -- nobody, as far as I can recall, sat and read a paper out loud. A couple of people did read one or two of Hikmet's poems. The event was hugely attended, the small meeting room was packed, standing room only -- I did in fact stand by the wall through the whole event -- people sitting in the aisles, spilling out into the halls.
And, a good panel on the life and work of poet Adrienne Rich. Panelists were Alicia Ostriker, Jenny Johnson, and Beatrix Gates. I particularly liked Ostriker's strong clear comments about Rich's poetry, her capacity to bring together in her poems the pieces of a fragmented world. Ostriker talked specifically, in this regard, about Rich's poem "An Atlas of the Difficult World" (from Rich's book of the same name).
I also went to panels titled "Teaching Creative Writing to Teens Outside of the Classroom," "Poetry for the People" (at which the panelist were current and former poets laureate of Northhampton, Massachusetts), and "Masters of Noise: Surviving and Thriving without an MFA," all of which I enjoyed.
I especially liked the energetic discussion and comments from the audiences at all of the events i attended this year. People weren't just passively listening. At one of the panels I attended, one of the panelists got up and went to the podium mike, said "I want to stand up so I can see you," and then she proceeded to read a paper, barely looking up from it the whole time. This, however, was the only instance of the paper-reading syndrome I encountered at the events I went to.
Aside from the panel events, I spent a lot of time during the days wandering the gigantic bookfair, on the off-chance I might find something to read.
It snowed here in Minneapolis early last week, and I was a little worried about getting out of town for the conference, though the snow finally let up and moved on about a day before I flew to Boston. The weather in Boston was seasonably gray and chilly and damp on
Wednesday when I flew there, then on Thursday and Friday there were two days of non-stop sideways-blowing snow, with stiff east wind off the Atlantic. (My hotel room was on the 27th floor, and on clear days I had a good view of the Charles River a few blocks to the north; on the blizzard days, the river and the buildings on the far side disappeared in snow and fog.) The temperature stayed at or a little above freezing during the days, and although the weather made the streets messy and sloppy and played havoc with traffic, from what I could tell a lot of the snow melted right away. By Saturday morning the snow had stopped.
The hotel and the convention center were in a block of adjoining buildings, and it was possible to go from one to the other without going outside, and I was greatful for this during the lively weather days. (In downtown Minneapolis, most of the buildings are connected by enclosed overhead walkways, which is likewise a big help getting around during the long winters here.)
It was my first time in Boston, and I didn't get a chance to see much of the city outside the immediate area of the convention center, though I did get a good look at the riverfront on the way two and from the airport. I definitely want to go back to Boston sometime and just spend some time there, without anything specific to get done.
One of the enjoyable things about these conference events is meeting and seeing people you don't see often. I had a chance to talk a couple of times with poet friend Jeanetta Calhoun Mish (publisher of Mongrel Empire Press); John Crawford (publisher of West End Press); Gary Willkie (owner of Acequia Books in Albuquerque) and Marilyn Stablein; M. Scott Douglass (publisher of Main Street Rag magazine and books); and poet blogger Mary Biddinger. I also enjoyed meeting for the first time Gary Metras, publisher of Adastra Press; Adastra publishes beautifully made letterpress books, as well as modern-style offset print editions.
As I have at these things in past years, toward late afternoon I tended to get a little wiped out, and retreated to the hotel room and holed up for the evening, though I did wander out briefly a couple of times. Here and there I managed to write a little, when I coiuld get my mind focused enough.
As I have each of the previous years, this year I brought back too many books, and am enjoying them. Here's the list of what I found and brought home:
Before There Is Nowhere To Stand: Palestine/Israel Poets Respond to the Struggle edited by Joan Dobbie and Grace Beeler with Edward Morin, published 2012 by Lost Horse Press. Contributors include Ruth Fogelman, Samuel Hazo, Nizar Qabbani, Alicia Ostriker, Adonis (Ali Ahmed Said Esber), Rachel Barenblat, Tawfiq Zayyad, Mahmoud Darwish, Sam Hamod, Doreen Stock, Fadwa Tuqan, Judy Kronenfeld, Khaled Abdallah, Naomi Shihab Nye, Philip Metres, Sharon Doubiago, Rachel Corrie, Lahab Assef Al-Jundi...these among many others. A truly powerful collection, just excellent.
The Orgy, a novel by Muriel Rukeyser, a somewhat fictionalized account by Rukeyser of traveling to Ireland for the last surviving pagan goat festival. Originally published in 1965; reissued 1997 by Paris Press.
Marginalia Poems from the Old Irish, translated by Louis McKee, published 2008 by Adastra Press. This is one of those beautiful rarities you never find anywhere. A beautifully made letterpress book, nineteen poems, the medieval Irish originals and modern English translations. I've probably spent more time this with this book than any of the others I found at the bookfair this year. (Adastra Press does not have a website. The publisher can be reached by paper mail at: Adastra Press, 16 Reservation Road, Easthampton, MA 01027. The book is cover priced at $18.00. He asks $3.00 for shipping and handling in the U.S. His brochure also says you can order his books online through the Small Press Distribution website, www.spdbooks.org.)
Check Points, poems by Michael Casey, drawn very much from his experience as a soldier in the U.S. war against Vietnam. Published 2011 by Adastra Press.
Something More Than Force: Poems for Guatemala 1971-82 by Zoe Anglesey, published 1982 by Adastra Press. I love book. Zoe was a longtime friend; she died in 2003. For many years I've had the original letterpress edition Adastra published of her book. The copy I found at their table at AWP this year is the second edition, published by offset print, also very nicely made. I wanted another copy, to give to someone at some point.
Shortly Thereafter, poems by Colin D. Halloran, published 2012 by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. Poems made mostly from Halloran's experience as a soldier in the U.S. war against Afghanistan.
From the Fishouse, edited by Camille T. Dungy, Matt O'Donnell, and Jeffrey Thompson, published 2009 by Persea Books. An anthology of poems drawn from the website of the same name.
Capital of Pain by Paul Eluard, poems translated by Mary Ann Caws, Patricia Terry, and Nancy Kline, published 2006 by Black Widow Press. Bilingual edition.
Poetics of Dislocation by Meena Alexander, published 2009 by University of Michigan Press. Collection of essays and other prose writing; one of the "Poets on Poetry" series published by the press.
Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, Series 3, Spring 2012. This is a bundle of eight pamphlets, reissued publications (or, in some cases, first publication) of various historic works by poets, often obscure and "lost" (or buried in an archive somewhere) for many years. The bunch I found this year (at the Small Press Distribution table at the bookfair, if I remember right) includes writings from the 1930's on the Spanish Civil War by Langston Hughes, Nancy Cunard, and Louise Thompson; "Homemade Poems" by Lorine Niedecker, published in a facsimile edition of her handwritten pages; two volumes of selected correspondence between poets John Wieners and Charles Olson; Charles Olson Memorial Lectures by poets Diane DiPriima and Edward Dorn; selected letters of Michael Rumaker; and letters to and from poet Joanne Kyger. * The document series is curated and published by the City University of New York Center for the Humanities. The Center's webpage for the Series 3 (the group of publications listed above) is here. In the page at this link, if you hover your mouse pointer over the "Series" link, you'll get a dropdown with links to Series 1 and Series 2. Series 4 is forthcoming.
Apart from the above, Persea Books will be publishing a translation of Life's Good, Brothers, a novel by poet Nazim Hikmet. Persea had uncorrected proof copies of the book at their bookfair table, which I didn't get one of; they said they're expecting that the finished edition will be out in April this year.
Also, poet friend Margaret Randall reports that The Feminist Press,in association with City University of New York, last I knew) will be publishing Costa Brava (Savage Coast), a previously unpublished novel by poet Muriel Rukeyser that takes place in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. The novel is named among the forthcoming items at the back of the CUNY "Lost & Found" pamphlets listed above, with a projected publication date of 2013.
I plan to look for both of these.
Friday, February 15, 2013
All Through The Night
The book includes a generous sampling of my poems covering about 30 years of work. Around one-third of the poems are taken from previous books of mine; the remainder haven't been collected in books before. The book includes an Introduction by poet Dale Jacobson, and an author afterword by myself.
The publisher's webstore page for the book is here.
In the page at the above link, if you scroll down a little below the cover art image, you'll find a box with a brief description of the book; if you click on the Comments leak along the upper border of the box, you can read the cover blurbs by poets Lorna Dee Cervantes, Floyce Alexander, and Robert Edwards.
The front cover art (shown in the webpage at the above link) is drawing of the moon in its phases, done in November-December 1609 by Galileo Galilei. (In the webpage, if you hover your mouse pointer over the cover image, it will display a slightly larger version of the image.)
My big thanks to my publisher Scott King for his great work on the book design and preparing it for publication. Check out the website of Red Dragonfly Press for more of the excellent books of poems the press has published.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
I was in a poetry writing class that Wally and two other people taught, during my last year of high school, 1971-72. At the time I entered the class, I'd been writing poems for about three years. The class was one of the great formative times in my life as a poet and in my life overall. I'll talk here a little about the class and about Wally.
The full name of the class was Poetry and Songwriting. It was part of the Urban Arts program, a federally funded program (of the sort that right-wing politicians and corporate tyrants are trying to eliminate these days), where high school and junior high students in Minneapolis met for part of the day with working artists away from conventional schools, and learned and worked on their own art. In addition to the Poetry and Songwriting class, the program included classes in theatre, dance, filmmaking, photography, art, music, and other creative work. During high school I knew a lot of people, from my own school and others, who were taking Urban Arts classes. Wally Kennedy was the director of the overall program, and also one of the teachers of the Poetry and Songwriting class.
In addition to Wally, the other teachers of Poetry and Songwriting were poet Gary Isensee and musician Ted Unseth (later a founding member of the local band the Wolverines).
The class met the first two hours each morning (on school days) at Crosby House, a large old brick house in south Minneapolis near the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The house had once belonged to one of the families that founded, in the early 20th century, the Washburn-Crosby Company, which later became General Mills.
In the fall of 1971, there were about two dozen of us in the class. We showed up at 8:30 in the morning. We would start each morning with a yoga exercise known as the Sun Salutation, made of lots of bending and breathing, reaching toward the floor and working our way back up to standing. This had the effect of somewhat calming our minds before class. Then we gathered in a small room upstairs, sitting on the floor in a circle, and Gary or Wally would give us a writing exercise to do. Then we would scatter to the various corners and back hallways of the house, and write for a while, and then we would come back to the small room, and we would take turns reading out loud whatever we had written that morning. (During this time, the students among us who were musicians or becoming musicians also sometimes met with Ted Unseth, who lived in the attic apartment in the house and was a kind of part-time janitor there.)
The first day of class, Wally sat with us and talked for few minutes, and he had us go and walk around outside the house for a little bit, and told us to find something that had once had life in it, and to write about it -- try to find, he said, something of the life the thing had once had, write however you respond to that. People came back with all manner of things -- a small broken-off tree branch, some moist tree bark with spots of pale fungus, I can't remember what else. I found a couple of small red berries that had dropped from a bush. (I sat looking at them for a few minutes, and I found them transforned to two men rolling around in a small rowboat on rough water at night. That's where I started when I started writing.) Wally and Gary would always do the writing exercises along with us. For this one, Wally himself wrote about a horse skull that sat on a shelf mounted on one of the walls upstairs -- one of the few items on mostly bare walls.
Some of the other writing exercises I remember from that year: one morning Wally brought in a bag of his family's kitchen garbage, spreadnewspaper on the floor, and emptied the bag on the newspaper, and told us to write about it -- write about the notion of garbage, of waste, of the waste in the world, of waste (if we felt it) in our own lives. Another time, Gary Isensee brought in a sealed mason jar half full of muddy murky water and weeds and grass, with a dyed blue Easter egg sitting in the water, set the jar in the middle of the room, and told us to write about it.
Other exercise were a little more conventional: write a poem in three parts -- first the dream, then the myth, then the reality underlying them. Write a poem that ends suddenly. Write a sympathetic poem about someone or something you strongly dislike. One on occasion Wally read out loud Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "Pied Beauty," talked about how the poem developed building image upon image, and asked us to try to write a poem like that.
Once of the exercises I liked best was when Gary one day brought into class many paintings -- the pages of small art books, taken apart from the bindings. He told us to take three of the pictures from the pile, and write a poem that found some type of connection between the three images. The three I picked were all paintings by Francisco Goya, the first time I'd seen work of his. Goya has since become one of my favorite painters.
There were other times when we visited the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Center (both of which were fairly close by), and a couple of times we visited churches in the neighborhood and wrote our responses to the architecture and the religious symbols and the general feeling of the places. Sometimes Wally or Gary would have us just go to the park a block from Crosby House, and write about the life going on in the park or the buildings surrounding it in the neighborhood.
One of the things that I came to like the most about the class was the general mood of quiet most of the time. When we would gather after writing, and read out poems out loud, we did it almost ritually -- Wally commented once that the class sometimes reminded hiim of a religious service. People spoke, mostly, only when strongly moved to. People spoke politely. When we read our poems, there was very little talk before and after -- maybe a brief word introducing a poem now and then, maybe a short comment of appreciation after someone read a poem. No active critiquing, most of the time. No agression, no competitiveness. Such things would have seemed a violation of the creative circle.
Over the course of the year we came to feel a high level of trust in each other, during the class sessions as such, and in the conversation that went on in and around the class. After all these years I'm still lightly, loosely in touch with a few of the people from the class.
All of the above deeply affected me, my intentions with writing poems, my thinking about what poetry is. To this day I often feel that I have little to say about poetry, of any theoretical nature, that could be in any way useful. Not entirely, but much of the time. When I talk about poems, or write book reviews, I find it easiest to refer to specific poems or quoted passages from poems, and talk about them as examples.
To get a real sense of just how crucial the Poetry and Songwriting class was for many of us, it might be worth remembering that during those years, poetry tended to be at least as much on the fringe of the mainstream culture as it is now. All of us in the class were in one way or another outcasts or loners or the shy quiet ones sitting over in the corner, the ones who went home after school and sat in our rooms and read books. I don't know if we'll ever know how many of our lives were saved by the opportunity to be in that class and to write and to share our writing with others who were doing the same thing.
Sheryl Noethe, Mary Stoyke, Mark Ostrander, Michael Shannon, Ernie Batson, Sally Brenner, Robbie Kacheroski, Jack Pearson, Holly Enkel, Lolly Kuusisto, Bruce Bailey, Michele Jackman, Mary Evans, Janice Thurs... I've named here some of the other people who were students in the class during the first half of that year. Mid-year, about twenty more people joined the class, and my memory grows hazy trying to think of names. The Poetry and Songwriting class took place through three years, and I was in it the middle year of the three. Not necessarily everyone in the class has continued writing poetry, and of those who have, not everyone is doing anything public with it. But it shaped our lives hugely at a time when we deeply needed it.
Now and then Wally Kennedy would arrange for us, whoever was interested, to go with him to visit other schools in the area, for a day or part of a day, and read our poems, and do writing exercises together with the other students. I enjoyed that a great deal. He also now and then arranged for us to go to large events of one kind or another and read our poems to audiences -- I remember specifically a symposium of family practice doctors, a conference of teachers, and a meeting of the St. Paul Junior League. Members of other Urban Arts classes (especially the theatre and dance classes) often came to such events and performed as well. Also, on two occasions that year, the entire poetry class did a mass reading at the Walker Art Center, which was a great and joyful experience.
Over the years since then I had just occasional contact with Wally. We continued to remain friendly whenever we did happen to talk. He came to listen when I did a poetry reading at a local coffeehouse sometime back in the 1990's. In more recent years, he sent me a copy of a memoir of his childhood, Who Do You Think You Are?, full of lively stories of his early years in North Dakota and elsewhere as his family moved around. And, just this past fall, he sent me a copy of Urban Arts: How Students Thrived in Their Arts Community, a memoir/history he'd written about the Urban Arts program. I found great wellsprings of memory bubbling up as a read through the book, especially the section on the poetry class. (I don't find a website for the publisher; the book gives the publisher as Ytterli Press, 2211 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108.)
I had the opportunity to be part of a living and growing and thriving community of artists, my own age and older, from very early, almost from the very time I started writing poems when I was 14. The Urban Arts program was not the only such program in Minneapolis at the time, there were a couple of others that also afforded creative opportunities to people my age. The Poetry and Songwriting class was, in any case, an essential piece of my life. I can't imagine who I would be today without it.
Thank you, Wally.