Free Poetry Project

free poetry dnt

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!

The Gauntlet


Shopping for lotion, I enter the store.

A clerk approaches and asks if I would like a basket.

“Why yes,” I say.

As I walk to the rack that carries my lotion (named Hello Beautiful)

the clerk asks if she can help me find anything.

“It’s right here,” I say proudly, having found my lotion by myself. “Hello Beautiful.”

She triumphantly points to another rack nearby

where lotions sit with the same name and a different label design.

I ponder the new ones, wondering, why can’t they just leave it alone?

Whenever I find something I like, the powers-that-be

change the recipe, change the label, change the scent, change the price.

I put the lotions in my basket.

I walk through the store where another clerk

asks if I’ve found everything I need.

“Yes,” I say.

She leaves, downcast at my satisfaction.

I stand in the checkout line,

almost to the end.

It’s my turn and the cashier looks into my basket, dismayed.

“Oh, don’t you want any spray? It’s twoferone!”

“No thank you.”

She tisk-tisks and rings me up. Asks if I have an email address.

“I don’t like to give that out,” I say.

She give me a look, bags my purchases and starts to hand them to me.

I expect a request for my social security number before she

lets my lotions go, but no.

She has my money and I am free now,

having survived another pass

through the capitalist gauntlet.

A Tribute to Mary Oliver

I happened to be reading Mary Oliver’s “Dog Songs” book of poems over the course of several evenings when I heard the news of her death last week. What a momentous passing for the poetry world! The thought that she will never write another word for the world to read is depressing. I’ve been in a funk for a few days.

One of my friends said that when he heard the news, it hit him like that scene in “Star Wars” when Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan is destroyed by the Death Star; a giant scream passes through the galaxy, heard only by those who are strong in the Force. In the case of Mary Oliver, I imagine many poets emitted silent screams when they heard the news.

20190121_143759I’ve long been a fan of her work. I even was able to see her read in person in the hinterlands that are Duluth way back in 1987. Her autograph is on my copy of “American Primitive” as proof!

I appreciate how Mary made poetry accessible. Her consistent weaving of themes from the natural world and the sensual world spoke to me unlike the work of any other poet.  Thank you thank you Mary Oliver for having the courage to put your words to paper and the perseverance to publish them!

I’d like to share with you some of my favorite poems from “Dog Songs,” which, as if you couldn’t guess, are poems about her dogs.

These lines are from one entitled “Her Grave,” and they echo thoughts I have almost every time I walk my dog:

A dog can never tell you what she knows from the

smells of the world, but you know, watching her,

that you know

almost nothing.

In that short phrase, Mary explains the different worlds that dogs and humans inhabit, yet how closely they are connected.

Another favorite is, “The Poetry Teacher.” This poem describes how the university gave Mary a “new, elegant” classroom to teach in – one where her dogs were not allowed. She would not agree to that and instead moved into an old classroom in an old building. She kept the door propped open and eventually her dog would arrive with his friends . . .

all of them thirsty and happy.

They drank, they flung themselves down

among the students. The students loved

it. They all wrote thirsty, happy poems.

Then there’s “The Wicked Smile,” about a dog who seems famished for breakfast and “talks” Mary into feeding it, only to “confess” afterward that someone else fed him breakfast already.

While her dog poems are not quite as strong as her people-oriented poems, they are certainly worth reading. You won’t look at dogs in quite the same way afterward.

May you all write thirsty, happy poems!

Walt Whitman Lives!


Patrick Scully as Walt Whitman

A literary figure came to life in downtown Duluth a few days ago. Walt Whitman made an appearance at the Zeitgeist Teatro Zuccone on September 12 in the form of a one-man show by Patrick Scully.

Whitman, of course, is known for his poetic work, “Leaves of Grass” (1855). The book received praise from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau but was also controversial for its overt sexuality.

In Scully’s show, “Leaves of Grass – Illuminated,” Scully embodies Whitman in his “multitudes,” exploring his inclusiveness and embrace of all humankind – things everyone needs reminders of, especially now.

The show premiered in New York City and Minneapolis. If you missed it in Duluth, you’ll have a chance to see it at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis on July 12-14, 2019, shortly after the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birth.

Scully performs a couple different versions of his show. The one we saw was the full-meal deal, featuring videos of male dancers dressed in appropriate period garb (and also lack thereof). The videos played behind Scully, who stood at a podium near the audience.

20180916_175923Whitman has been a long-time favorite of mine, ever since I read a first-edition version of “Leaves of Grass” (pictured, copyright 1959) that I think my parents gave me off their bookshelf. It kept me company during a summer on Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior. No libraries there! So I lugged a duffle bag full of books along with me when I worked as a waitress at the resort on the island during college.

Some of my favorite lines come from, “I Sing the Body Electric.” In looking through my old book, this one still strikes me:

I have perceived that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful curious breathing laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them . . to touch any one . . . . to rest my arm ever so lightly around his or her neck for a moment . . . . what is this then?
I do not ask any more delight . . . . I swim in it as in a sea.

Like Whitman’s poetry, Scully’s show pleased my soul well.

Thanks go to Lake Superior Writers and the Minnesota State Arts Board for hosting and sponsoring the evening.

Louis Jenkins’s Favorite Poem


Louis Jenkins reads at Zenith Book Store in Duluth, Minn.

Laconic prose poet Louis Jenkins gave a reading at a book store last week in Duluth.  He’s one of my favorite local writers (even though he lives in a Minneapolis suburb now instead of Duluth), so I went. I think of him as Duluth’s Earnest Hemingway. He has that larger than life quality and talent. A chance encounter with him once even inspired a poem out of me. (See “Two Poets in the Cereal Aisle.”)

The Poetry Foundation website describes Jenkins’s poems as having “a tight focus on the mundane particularities of ordinary existence, using deliberately flat language to comic and often heartbreaking effect.”

The last time I went to one of his readings years ago, I left my cell phone on. My children were home with a babysitter, and I wanted to be available. I told the sitter only to call me in an emergency. Right when Jenkins was reading a poem, my phone went off. I was in the middle of the crowd and everyone looked at me. I was too mortified even to turn off the sound; I just fled the room with my ringer intermittently blaring.

The call was not an emergency. After mildly chastising the inexperienced babysitter (I am a Minnesotan, after all, we can’t afford to get all riled up), I sheepishly returned to the reading, waiting until the crowd was applauding to cover my entrance.

At last week’s event, you can bet I turned that sucka OFF. Jenkins read from his new book, “In the Sun, Out of the Wind.” Afterward, he took requests for readings from his other books and he answered questions.

One memorable question came from my friend and partner in crime, Sharon. She asked which poem of his was his favorite. His response was, “The next one.” He went on to explain: “Sometimes you think, ‘I got pretty close with that one,’ and those are the good ones. Other times you wonder, ‘Why in the heck did I write that?’ ”

Another person asked him what he thought of living in the Twin Cities. “Bloomington’s a lot like Duluth,” he said. “It’s only got one good restaurant.”

The topic of actor Mark Rylance came up. In case you haven’t seen the Tony awards lately, Rylance is the actor who, for the last two Tonys he’s won, recites a Louis Jenkins poem instead of giving an acceptance speech. Rylance and Jenkins even did a play together based on Jenkins’s book, “Nice Fish.”

Although age has taken its inexorable toll, Jenkins still has a twinkle in his eye when he reads, and his wit is unmistakably intact. I felt privileged to see him once again, and to sit through the entire reading this time.

Lost Lights


My grandchildren
will never see
the lighted tunnel
with the penguin for wishing.
(Rub its head.)


Image by Amanda Jo Dahl.

They will never see
the sugarplum fairy
high in the tree;
the unicorn that changes colors;
Cinderella’s carriage
bedecked with white lights.

They will never walk
the driftwood path
to the dark and quiet lake;
the stars overhead
dimmed by green laser lights on the sand;
city lights pulsing on the hillside beyond.


Image by Amanda Jo Dahl

They’ll never drink hot cider
in the garden house;
never roast marshmallows
in the outdoor fire here;
never laugh at their reflections
in the low slung, slanting mirrors.
When they are older,
they will never kiss that special someone
under this frosted mistletoe.

My grandchildren
will never know this tradition
I spark the light
behind their eyes
with words.


This is a tribute to a Christmas lighting display on Park Point in Duluth, Minn. Marcia Hales (seen lighting a wish lantern in my photo from 2015) has invited the public to enjoy the display in her yard for years. She recently announced that 2016 will be the last year for her display. I wrote this poem very quickly after spending last evening in her lights.


UPDATE: Jan. 7, 2107 was proclaimed Marcia hales Day in Duluth. It was supposed to be the last day for people to visit her light display, but after the proclamation reading, Marcia announced the lights will go on! She’s getting a lot of community support to keep them glowing into the future.

Trail Cam in the Office


True story. This happened in my office last week.


We’re caught
inside the camouflaged box that’s mounted on a pole
in our office.
Eyes wide, coffee cups in hand
we walk down the hallway
feeling like someone is watching.

What strange natural rituals
will the camera catch —
Mating habits of the white-collar worker?
Dominance displays of the office alpha female?
A furtive mail boy stealing candy from a desk?
The shy engineer emerging from a conference call?

I suspect all the mother wolves who have had their birth dens invaded,
all the nesting birds who just want to feed their young in peace
would enjoy the sweet revenge
of these photos.

©2016  Marie Zhuikov

Nobody Dies in Spring in Duluth


Marsh marigolds. Credit: Brian Robert Marshall [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons.

April is National Poetry Month in the U.S. I couldn’t let it pass without posting a poem. This is one I just finished, inspired by a poetry class taught by Duluth Minnesota’s Poet Laureate Jim Johnson, based on Philip Appleman’s poem, “Nobody Dies in Spring.” Try your own version! It’s a fun exercise. I hope this Spring finds you well.

Nobody Dies in Spring in Duluth

Nobody dies in Spring in Duluth.
That’s when we hold gloved hands
with total strangers on the Lakewalk.
We sing sweet nothings to our dogs,
who have been lying by the fireplace
all winter, gazing up at us
with walk-hopeful eyes.
Kids yell and splash bikes through street potholes.
High school students don shorts
when the mercury hits forty-five.
Fathers take a year’s worth of family refuse
in pickup trucks to the dump.
Pussy willows sprout gray fuzzy nubbins
for mothers to cut and bring inside.
Shy yellow marigolds beckon in marshes.
White gulls cry and fly over melting snowdrifts.
The sun reaches down with tentative warm caresses.
Nobody dies in Spring in Duluth.

©2016 Marie Zhuikov


Please Vote for my Poem on Goodreads!


By Jonathunder – Own work, GFDL 1.2,

I swear this is no April Fool’s joke. I entered a poem in the Goodreads Newsletter contest and it’s one of six finalists up for vote. The winning poem will be featured in this month’s newsletter, which Goodreads says is read by 20 million people.

My poem, “Inevitable Scones,” is currently in second place by ten votes. If you are active in Goodreads, please join the Poetry Group, read my poem and vote for it if you like it.

This is the first time I ever entered a poem in this contest, and I am amazed it was picked as a finalist. I’m also excited that it has the chance to be read by so many people. For those of you already a member of the Goodreads poetry group, here’s a direct link to the voting.

Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. (Pacific Time) on April 2. Every vote counts!

* * *

UPDATE, 4/3/16:

Well, my scones poem didn’t win the Goodreads contest. Even though, as my brother would say, it makes me the first loser, I am at peace with my poem’s strong second-place finish. I’m excited by it! This is the first time I’ve entered a poem in a national competition and it’s validating to see my little book-inspired nostalgic ditty place well. Thank you for the pains you took to vote, and for your encouragement.