Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Poetry Showcase at the Red Mug Energizes Duluth Dylan Fest 2015

From the opening moments the 2015 Dylan Fest poetry event was going to be something special. The Red Mug was packed and Jeffrey Woolverton, editor of Back Umbrella Books, was standing at the microphone. I was in the back and at first couldn't here what he was saying but being a Dylan event I thought he was just saying words to quiet the crowd as Bob Dylan did in England during the famous "Judas Conecrt" in 1960's. Except it wasn't nonsense Woolverton was babbling, rather it was the opening paragraph of Tarantula, and the gathered fans of poetry here quickly grew quiet, to listen and to hear. 

The poetry reading was a celebration of Northland voices and it is hard to imagine a more satisfying poetry event. The cast was stellar, the setting perfect, and everything else just right. 

Kudos to Jeffrey Woolverton for his efforts in coordinating local talent and for taking time to craft a program that would permit that talent to make this a real experience for those in attendance and those who came to share. A lot of work went into crafting author bios, and the introductions by MC Karen Sunderman whose enjoyment of the local arts is so very genuine and without artifice. 

The addition of Richie Townsend into the mix was an unexpected element that has been incorporated into a number of events I've attended the past two or three years, a quiet musical accompaniment that flows beneath the soaring winging of words. 

The poets themselves came prepared to enjoy this literary celebration... and Dylan. The unexpected Tarantula segment proved to set the bar for all of us who were reading, and the first reader only served to keep it high, Jim Johnson, the 2014-2016 Poet Laureate of the Duluth and Minnesota Book Award Finalist.

Johnson read close to seven poems from several of his books of books on Northland themes begining with At Eagle Lake and a poem about logging trucks to Driving Winter Roads ("to locate a raven locate a kill, to locate a kill locate a raven") to his Great Blue Heron. After the light-hearted material he then shared his poem "1918" and it was apparent why Johnson has received the recognition he has. He introduced the poem with brevity. "Enough of that happy stuff," making a reference to Desolation Row which begins with a reference to the Duluth lynchings downtown in 1919. No one that I'm aware of recalls the lynching that took place the previous year at Lester River, the subject of the poem, the hanging of Ollie Kinkonen, a Finnish immigrant. Powerful stuff.

Sheila Packa, our former poet laureate, author of four books of poetry who hails from the Iron Range and has that red ore dust in his veins, was next introduced. She's been a strong voice for women, the environment and workers. She opened with Mr. Robin ("Let me be as kind...") followed by a poem rich with imagery called Vestiges ("timbers splintered to wet matches"), an Iron Range influenced "Keg Party" that looked at the future from the point of view of youth, a piece called Equinox, and a piece called Mine Pit Blessing ("to flow away from the oceans we once called home.")  Ms. Packa closed with a poem from her book Night Train and Red Dust called Not Forgotten. 

Ed Newman was next, introduced as Ennyman. My reading included a poem I wrote in Puerto Rico in 1979 called Tracks In The Sand, followed by several recent poems. Just reading the title of It's Time To Get Tired brought laughs, as we've all been there. It is a humorous lament of a failing relationship... between me and sleep. I followed this with a winter lament called When the Snow Fell, followed by Friday Night at Rest and closing with Private Ryan, inspired by the opening scene of the film Saving Private Ryan, acknowledging the connections between Dylan and Hollywood as well as the notion of giving back.


Kathleen Roberts, Literary Director for the PROVE Collective, followed with a handful of pointed and thoughtful pieces. I was excited when I saw that a number of younger literary artists were on the program, and Roberts has been playing a leadership role in this scene the past several years. Her poems included 53 Junctions, Auto Prophet, one whose title I missed and I Know the Sound of Grass Growing at One A.M. in the Morning in March, which as unusual as it sounds managed to become something we could all relate to. Sometimes poets write the things we often leave unsaid and thereby their words connect us to the universal unsaid, a variation on the Jungian notion of unversal consciousness.

Bob Monohan always comes with a surprise, so it's no surprise when he opened with "I was anxious and now I am drunk." Monohan has a measured style that comes across as unmeasured, a natural gift of self-deprecation while making you laugh or think or just enjoy the word play. His first poem, A Case for Inanimate Friends produced all three reactions. Different Day was a bizarre and surreal hand grenade, followed by a poem called Duane (or Dwayne?). Three Short Poems About Microwaves was followed by a paeon about drugs. His last two pieces were On Working, and "I Wish."

The rest of the evening included readings by Liz Minette, Phil Fitzpatrick, Donald Dass, Steve Downing, and a special add-on Chuck Walton whose grandfather was a Lithuanian Jew who lived near the Zimmerman home on Duluth's Central Hillside. 

As time permits I will share a little more from this and other Dylan Fest events in the mornings ahead. Meantime, tonight it's Grog Time at Tycoons and an evening of Dylan-inspired music. Perhaps we'll see you there....

And of course, the highlight of the evening last night... Dylan performing as the last musical guest on Letterman. Perfect song to close with, "The Night They Called It A Day."

Thank you Suzanne Johnson for inviting us into your space again this year, and for all the embellishments you added to another great event.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Explore it.

1 comment:

David Wolden said...

The neighbor must have been Chuck Walt, not Walton. I am so sorry I missed this!