Friday, May 5, 2017

Seen and Heard: Homegrown Poets Ignite

Sheila Packa
"Although the wind blows terribly here, moonlight also leaks between the roof planks of this ruined house." --Izumi Shikibu

Monday evening the Duluth Homegrown celebrated its 11th Annual Poetry Showecase featuring nearly 40 local poets, including several Duluth poet laureates. Tina Higgins Wussow curated the program, and The Murder of Crows (Gaelynn Lea and Alan Sparhawk) provided musical accompaniment. Gathering at Sacred Heart Music Center, we left all of Monday's MayDay slush and chill at the door for a very warm evening celebrating the spoken word.

The poets who shared came from a range of backgrounds, united by a common interest, this appreciation for poetry. Many familiar names and faces were there, including past and present poet laureates. The themes ranged from light-hearted word play and imagery to circuitous barbed observations.

First out of the gate was Deborah Cooper, who read a humorous piece called Confessional Poem, comprised of a series of "confessions' from the point of view of a guilty spouse, beginning with the words, "I hid your cake," an amusing way to describe the challenges of getting old together and her passive/aggressive ways of getting even. Michelle Matthees followed with Swap Shop, a fun poem with a short story feel.

Other themes the poets touched included observations about tossing books, about the loss of a beloved mastiff, the horrible feeling that accompanied lying after being caught stealing, the white horses of Sigurd Olsen, the various winds one had been buffeted by on a road trip from Wisconsin to New Orleans, a poem born of love and pain, that sense of being stunned by reckless beauty, poems from a nasty poetry collection (Killy Kay), Mayday (Ellie Schoenfeld), the gift of naming, a poem about getting into a fight with a politician, a broken piece of clothesline, and Bob Monohan's "To All the Shrinks I've Loved Before."

Tina Higgins Wussow read her piece The First Day Of Work followed by Zach Shears' reflective "Always Trying to Interior Design My Mind." The Northland was a theme that wove its way through many poems as well, as in Yvonne Rutford's Still Life Porch in March or April or May. Allen Killian-Moore gave us Descriptions of Fitgers.

I, too, shared a piece titled "Warhol Revisited"
Writing -- whether poetry, essays or business reports -- is about word selection, and the manner in which these words are assembled, their relationships in the sentence, or non-sentences at times. The words evoke imagery and connections and even when nebulous can move us in unexpected ways, as with this line from Amy Clark's poem Drought: "I am stunned by all the reckless beauty."

There were young poets, life veterans and everyone in between. Kathleen Roberts, who shared an insight from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar with the poem Teknon, began by stating, "I'm still young but I've learned a lot." You could tell this was true simply by noting her manner of delivery. Roberts began by addressing the matter of Julius Caesar's famous last words, "Et tu, Brute?" The Latin that Shakespeare used fails to capture the depth of pain in this moment. The Bard used Latin because his listeners would likely not have understood the original Greek, which was actually 'Kai su, teknon?' (Trans. "You too, my son?") Note the deeper implications of the betrayal in this more intimate anguished sigh.

Mary Lee also drew word pictures from ancient civilizations, Greek Mythology being her pallet.

Gary Boelhower sang and read his "First Song" again, the only poet to disregard the instructions to hold strictly to the three minute window we had been given. It's a powerful poem, but thankfully he was the only rule breaker with 35 others sharing.

Several members of the UWS writing department faculty were on hand to read as well, so I selected this piece by Julie Gard, an associate professor in the Writing & Library Science Department.

On the Garage Sale of a Favorite Poet
by Julie Gard

Every unfinished cross-stitch, milk-white vase, dented puzzle box and empty perfume bottle resonates with potential literary significance, as do the worn hiking boots that the poet surely wore on a walk in the woods that inspired one of the best poems ever written about bears. A teetering stack of books are ones that the poet probably read, some avidly and with a sense of revelation. Apparently he does not need to read them again. On a 1960s tapestry, two purple-haired angels form the syllable "O," and a National Book Award winner intones wry poetry on a loosely spooled cassette tape. From a 1974 anthology of Minnesota writers, I learn that everyone's hair was long in the year I was born. I dig beneath placemats and rusted tools, but nothing he wrote is for sale, not a single observation. The closest thing is a bag of embroidery thread with intertwined strands of orangeade and spruce. I know I'll find something to use in there. Every Christmas, we'll take out those angels.

* * * *

I once imagined giving a talk titled An Hour of Poetry for People Who Are Not Into Poetry. It would be an attempt to share poems that are accessible, entertaining or thought-provoking -- the operative word being accessible. To see what poems I might have shared in that hour you can follow this link.

Meantime, the poetry of life goes on all around you. Get into it. It's never too late to begin.

EdNote: The title of this blog post was derived from Christopher Grant's exclamation "Poets of the World Ignite" which appeared in one of his three poems, a spin on the Mayday observation.

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