The unexpected poetry of northern Minnesota

Arts, Entertainment & CultureApril is National Poetry Month, and while I don’t normally remark on the passing of these chronological marketing designations, I do feel inclined to mention poetry here in Northern Minnesota.

Most of my instruction regarding poetry came in college from my professor Barton Sutter, a working poet and author in Duluth. If you’re going to pick one guy to tell you about poetry, he’d be a pretty good choice. He’s a blue collar kind of poet; the kind not raised around poetry, but rather one who found it, like a shiny thing on the ground. And though I’m not a poet, per se, I found writing much the same way.

He would teach us the notion that different forms of writing are like different sorts of oil, at least that’s how I interpreted the lesson. Good writing is always refined to some degree, but the shorter the form, the more refinement that is needed. A great, short poem requires more precision than anything else you could write. Sometimes a poem can do with one stab what a short story or novel attempts in a long, steady campaign.

And yet so many writers still want to be novelists. Myself included. Why is that?

I work with Northern Community Radio and this independent public media organization in northern Minnesota has a daily feature called “The Beat.” Every day they feature a poem read aloud by a Minnesota poet. Sometimes the poets are classically trained professors. Sometimes they are amateurs penning odes on the steering column of an old truck. Sometimes they are people like the station’s underwriting director John Bauer, inspired to write his first poem since school for the one year anniversary of his daughter’s suicide. And it is in these moments you realize the power of poetry in all places, for all people.

Northern Community Radio’s The Beat will host “The Beat Cafe,” its annual poetry open mic and reading, at the Rail River Folk School in Bemidji on the evening of Friday, April 11. The event will also feature live music from a great Midwestern band, the Brothers Burn Mountain. Find out more.

There are other northern Minnesota poetry events as well. From the Lyric Center for the Arts in Virginia, Minnesota:

The microphone is open and April is National Poetry Month! Come read your favorite poem or share your own writing on Monday, April 7, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the First Stage of the Lyric Center for the Arts 514 Chestnut Street, Virginia.

This event, free and open to the public, is part of the ongoing Words & Lyrics series for appreciation of the written and spoken word.  “Coffee an’s” will be available.

As years tick by, “The Language of Crows” by Duluth’s Louis Jenkins continues to rise in my personal estimation. It takes poetry to find the importance of crows.

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