I’ve posted several times about the “River of Poems” project on my blog. I’d like to let you know we (as in Wisconsin Sea Grant and the Lake Superior Reserve) finally got around to publishing this book of river poems from poets around the world.
To refresh your memory, in 2020, we sent out a call for river poems for The River Talks speaker series we hold with the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve. Poets were offered the opportunity to read their poems via Zoom during one of the River Talk monthly presentations.
Poets from across the world responded. With help from a judging committee, we narrowed the pool to a dozen poets, who read their works in March 2021 in conjunction with the St. Louis River Summit. The event was so moving, and the poems so well received, we created a publication to showcase them. “A River of Poems,” is now available as a free download.
In “I Held Us on for 36 Hours After the Levee Broke to Hell,” Heather Dobbins tells the story of a family who spends the night atop a phone pole to escape a raging river.
In “Catching Your Drift,” Lorraine Lamey highlights the subtle humor in natural resource regulations for a river in Montana.
Poet Ron Riekki shares how water can be an antidote for PTSD from war in “It Took a Long Time to Discover.”
A river in Detroit burns in Derold Sligh’s “Rouge River” poem, heralding a cry for environmental and social justice.
My poem, “Ojibwe Horses” was just published in “The Nemadji Review,” a literary magazine published by students at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. If you’d like to read my poem, look for it on page 8 in the PDF found here. As far as I know, it’s just a happy coincidence that a horse is on the cover.
You may recall that I wrote a story about this rare breed of horses for “Lake Superior Magazine.” (Read about that process here.) It’s become one of my missions lately to increase public awareness about these lovely animals and their plight. To expand the reach of my magazine story, I decided to write a poem based on it. I had never done this before. Shrinking a 2,560-word story into a 290-word poem was not easy! But it was a fun exercise and it reminded me about the differences between poetry and prose. How could I distill the essence of my experience with the horses? How could I offer captivating images and feelings? What was most important to say?
Getting the poem to this point took several rewrites, one rejection, and more rewrites, but I think it works. I sent it to one of the Ojibwe horse owners who I interviewed for my story, and she loved it, which is the best compliment I could ever hope for.
This is the first time I’ve been published in “The Nemadji Review.” We had a virtual book launch reading for the journal recently. Seeing the young crew who worked on it made me feel like the love of literature is alive and well in the next generation. It will be exciting to follow the careers of these talented students.
Back in the early-1980s, I was part of a group of students at the University of Minnesota who started a literary magazine for undergraduates. To the best of my recollection, we named it “Undercurrents.” It was a small publication, 5 x 7 inches, with a blue cardstock cover and a stapled binding. It contained art, poetry, and stories.
I only worked on the first issue. I can’t remember if “Undercurrents” continued after that or not. I think I stopped participating because I wasn’t satisfied with the process we used to choose the journal content. The process probably wasn’t objective enough for me, or maybe poems I really liked didn’t make the cut, or maybe both! But that initial experience is probably what made me comfortable stepping up to coordinate literary contests later in life for the Lake Superior Writers group.
I just did a search, and the U of MN has a literary journal for undergraduates now, called “Tower.” I’m glad to see what we started has continued, even if it has a different name now.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the poem. And if you’re a writer, I would encourage you to connect with local community colleges and universities – many open submissions to their literary journals to community members, not only students. It’s a way to support learning by students and could lead to a nice publication credit on your literary resume.
We expected only a few local poets would be interested. We thought they’d offer poems about the St. Louis River on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.
That was our mindset when the River Talk planning team at my workplace first developed the theme for the public poetry reading to be held in conjunction with the St. Louis River Summit as an evening program in March 2021. We were mistaken, but in the best possible way.
In reality, our call for river poems through the literary submission management platform Submittable garnered interest from 76 poets from across the U.S. and around the world. They submitted 148 poems for consideration.
“As it turns out, a lot of people like to write about rivers. That’s because they are really important in our communities and in our lives,” said Deanna Erickson, director of the National Lake Superior Estuarine Research Reserve, which co-sponsors the River Talk series with Wisconsin Sea Grant.
We quickly realized we were going to need more judges. In the end, we gathered six who represented a good cross-section of the audience we expected to attend the summit.
The judging was “blind,” which means the poets’ names were not associated with their poems. After two rounds, the judges narrowed the number of poems down to a dozen, with a few for backup in case any of the chosen poets could not be reached.
Although communication was sometimes a challenge, all 12 poets were enthusiastic about participating in the reading. They represented a wide diversity of ages and ethnicities.
The River Talk was a couple of weeks ago, but the warm fuzzy feelings it engendered remain with me. I could use many adjectives to describe it: powerful, beautiful, stark, raw, funny — but it’s really best if you listen to the poems and feel all the feels for yourselves. The reading drew 85 Zoomers, a record attendance.
The Lake Superior Reserve, our partner in the talks, recorded the reading and it’s available on their YouTube channel. Here’s a list of the poets (in the order they read) and the names of their poems:
Tyler Dettloff (Michigan) “My Stars” Heather Dobbins (Arkansas) “I Held us on for 36 Hours after the Levee Broke to hell” Ben Green (New Mexico) “Immersion: A Prayer of Intent” Lorraine Lamey (Michigan) “Catching Your Drift” Joan Macintosh (Newfoundland) “The Current Feels” Kate Meyer-Currey (England) “Timberscombe” Rebecca Nelson (California) “Of the St. Louis River” Stephanie Niu (New York) “To the Beaver’s Eyes” Diana Randolph (Wisconsin) “Knowing the Way” Ron Riekki (Florida) “It Took a Long Time to Discover” Derold Sligh (South Korea) “Rouge River” Lucy Tyrrell (Wisconsin) “Talking Water”
Ironically, the one poem specifically about the St. Louis River was written by someone who had never visited it. Rebecca Nelson said her poem, “Of the St. Louis River” was inspired by the spiritual experiences she’s had while watching water. She grew up in the Midwest and said she wrote the poem thinking of the rivers she knew from childhood. “I would love to visit sometime after the pandemic!” Nelson said.
Barb Huberty, St. Louis River Area of Concern coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, offered this comment in the Zoom chat, “I never knew that poetry could unite people across the globe.”
Sharon Moen, Eat Wisconsin Fish outreach specialist for Wisconsin Sea Grant, offered, “Thank you to all the poets and organizers! I am inspired by the depth of your thoughts and stories.”
Remaining River Talks will be held on April 14 and May 12. For more information, visit the River Talks page: go.wisc.edu/4uz720.
This Wednesday at 7 p.m. Central, I’m co-hosting a Zoom event that will showcase a dozen poets from around the world and across the country reading their powerful, evocative and beautiful poems about rivers. The March 3, 2021 reading is an evening program of the annual St. Louis River Summit, which brings together hundreds of people who work on and care about the St. Louis River in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It’s also part of our monthly River Talk programs, which are free and public-friendly. Details are below. Come experience different perspectives on our waterways!
Tyler Dettloff (Michigan) “My Stars” Heather Dobbins (Arkansas) “I Held us on for 36 Hours after the Levee Broke to Hell” Ben Green (New Mexico) “Immersion: A Prayer of Intent” Lorraine Lamey (Michigan) “Catching Your Drift” Joan Macintosh (Newfoundland) “The Current Feels” Kate Meyer-Currey (England) “Timberscombe” Rebecca Nelson (California) “Of the St. Louis River” Stephanie Niu (New York) “To the Beaver’s Eyes” Diana Randolph (Wisconsin) “Knowing the Way” Ron Riekki (Florida) “It Took a Long Time to Discover” Derold Sligh (South Korea) “Rouge River” Lucy Tyrrell (Wisconsin) “Talking Water”
This is just a quick post to let you know I’ll be giving a reading this weekend that’s being organized by a local Climate Change awareness group. The event is this Sunday Feb 21 by Zoom.
Here are the deets:
Here’s info about the Zoom poetry reading I’ll be doing this Saturday (Feb 21) at 3 pm Central. I’ll be reading an excerpt from “Plover Landing,” and a couple of poems. I think I will be the last reader because they’ll be going alphabetically. Here’s the Zoom address for Climate Emergency Poetry Reading #5 set for THIS Sunday, February 21 at 3:00 p.m. CST (4 EST):https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81576699711…
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Meeting ID: 815 7669 9711Passcode: 286977
SEE YOU THERE! HERE ARE YOUR SCHEDULED GUESTS:POETS: Ella Grim, Marie Zhuikov, Cal Benson, Jill Hinners, Jim Johnson CLIMATE ACTIVIST: Bill Mittlefehldt UMD MPIRG SPOKESPERSON: Stine Myrah YOUR HOSTS: John Herold & Phil Fitzpatrick AND OUR FIRST Q & A SESSION WILL FOLLOW!
I recently had the privilege of reading a poem for Northland College’s “Writer’s Read” 10th anniversary event in Ashland, Wisconsin. This is the second time my work has been chosen for this contest. The first time was an essay I read in 2018.
The theme this year was “Awakenings.” My poem, “Solastalgia,” dealt with my awakening as an environmentalist. As with the previous contest, readings by local authors were broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio. You can find the program on the web here. My poem airs between the 1 hr 19 min and 1 hr 22 min marks.
We were not offered cash for our winnings, rather the comradery of other writers, instant fame the reading provides (ha ha), and some great food! They fed us Mediterranean-style dishes prepared by a student chef, including homemade marshmallows cooked over a fireplace. Okay, the marshmallows probably weren’t Mediterranean, but they were still impressive on ‘smores.
My next event will be an animal-related reading (poetry, fiction, children’s story) and book sale for World Wildlife Day at the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth on February 29. The event is called “Leap Into Action for Australia.” One dollar from every zoo ticket sold will be donated to an emergency wildlife fund for the Australian brush fires. Find more info here.
Three other poets will be reading during the event. We each get a half-hour, which is HUGE! Hope to see you there.
I am happy to announce that two of my poems will be featured in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s 2019-2020 Calendar. The DNR holds an annual contest for photos and takes writing submissions for their 16-month Great Waters calendar, which is designed to show the ways that people connect with the state’s lakes and rivers.
My poem, “Stockton Island” graces the month of August 2020. I wrote the piece decades ago after my first stay at Quarry Bay on the island for a summer science program. My second poem, “Lake Superior Auntie” made the December 2020 page. This poem looks back on my career with organizations that are working to understand and preserve lakes Superior and Michigan.
The calendar will be distributed for free beginning August 1 at the Wisconsin State Fair, Wisconsin DNR offices, state and national park visitor centers, and through partner organizations.
The DNR has just posted the calendar on their website, too. If you’re interested in checking out information about the submission process, take a look here. Your work could be in their next one!
Last Friday was Bob Dylan’s birthday. My hometown of Duluth does it up right by holding an annual Dylan Fest — a week of events that features song, poetry, lectures, tours, and birthday cake.
This year, we attended the launch of a new book of poetry inspired by Dylan. “Visiting Bob” contains 100 poems by U.S. and international poets. A half dozen of the poets read their works and other poets’ works. Some of the poems were beyond me but others I understood. One that stuck was by local poet, Connie Wanek. Its theme was Dylan sightings in Duluth — are they false? Are they true? It ends on a hopeful note that perhaps someday the poet really will see him back in this town where he was born.
We also attended a lecture by one of the poets from Texas, David Gaines. Because he wrote a book about Dylan, he attracted media interest when Dylan won the Nobel Prize. Gaines described his experience being interviewed by Swedish public television and other major media outlets. He also got to travel to Stockholm to attend the airing of a Swedish public television story in conjunction with the prize ceremony.
On our way home from the lecture, we decided to stop by Bob Dylan’s home on the hillside, since it was on our route and we’d never seen it. A fan owns it and has spiffed up the duplex. Dylan lived in the right-hand side. A plaque on the front of the home proclaims its significance.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived here over five decades and never looked it up before. ‘Bout time, I guess.
When I posted the house photo on Facebook, one of my friends said they had a chance to rent the place in the mid-1970s, but turned it down. They didn’t know the home’s significance, however. When they found out afterward, they deeply regretted their decision because they were fans.
Another friend said she walked by the place thousands of times but it took years before she learned who had lived there.
These are typical instances of “Duluth” to me. It’s a big small town. It’s large enough to get lost in if you want, and to never see parts of it. But it’s small enough that everyone has friends in common through one means or another, whether they went to school with them, or worked with them, etc.
Even after all this time, this town still has hidden gems to discover for those who take the time to look.
Image by the Duluth News Tribune. That’s my poem that’s pictured!
The city of Duluth has a poet laureate. The current laureate’s name is Gary Boelhower. One of the ideas he put forth during his nomination process was to organize a free poetry project in our community. He made it happen, and now people can pick up poetry printed on cards at a dozen locations around town, including bookstores, coffee shops, and cafes.
Eleven local poets offered poems, including me! I offered several poems that haven’t been published yet. I chose fun ones that I thought would have popular appeal. One of them, titled “My Facebook Identity,” happened to be featured in a newspaper photo that accompanied a story about the project. To learn more, read the story.
I’m honored to take part in this sprinkling of poetry across our city!