Minnesota

In 2007, Minnesota established a state poet laureate position, which is currently held by Joyce Sutphen. Sutphen is the author of Modern Love & Other Myths (Red Dragonfly Press, 2015).

In 2006, Carol Connolly was named poet laureate of St. Paul, Minnesota. Connolly will serve a twelve-year term.

In 2018, Gary Boelhower was appointed as the poet laureate of Duluth, Minnesota. Boelhower will serve a two-year term.

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Minnesota poet laureaute
Joyce Sutphen

Joyce Sutphen is the author of Modern Love & Other Myths (Red Dragonfly Press, 2015), After Words (Red Dragonfly Press, 2013), and First Words (Red Dragonfly Press, 2010), among others. She teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, and lives in Chaska, Minnesota.

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An Octave Above Thunder

                                       ... reverberation
                              Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
                              He who was living is now dead
                              We who were living are now dying
                              With a little patience.

                                            --T. S. Eliot,
                                            "What the Thunder Said"

1

She began as we huddled, six of us,
in the cellar, raising her voice above
those towering syllables...

Never mind she cried when storm candles
flickered, glass shattered upstairs.
Reciting as if on horseback,
                   she whipped the meter,

trampling rhyme, reining in the reins
of the air with her left hand as she 
stood, the washing machine behind her
              stunned on its haunches, not spinning.

She spun the lines around each other,
her gaze fixed. I knew she'd silenced
a cacophony of distractions in her head,
              to summon what she owned, rote-bright:

                             Of man's first disobedience,
                                        and the fruit...
                              of the flower in a crannied wall
                              and one clear call...

for the child who'd risen before school assemblies:
eerie Dakota rumble that rolled yet never brought
rain breaking over the podium. Her voice rose,
                        an octave above thunder:

When I consider how my light is spent--
I thought of her light, poured willy-nilly.
in this dark world and wide: half-blind, blind,
a widening distraction Getting and spending
 we lay waste our powers...Different poem, a trick!

Her eyes singled me out as the wind slowed.
Then, reflective, I'd rather be / a Pagan
 sucked in a creed outworn / than a dullard
                         with nothing by heart.

It was midsummer, Minnesota. In the sky,
the Blind Poet blew sideways, his cape spilling
rain. They also serve! she sang, hailing
                                  closure

as I stopped hearing her. I did not want to
stand and wait. I loathed nothing so much
as the forbearance now in her voice,
              insisting that Beauty was at hand,

but not credible. I considered
how we twisted into ourselves to live.
When the storm stopped, I sat still,
                             listening.

Here were the words of the Blind Poet--
crumpled like wash for the line, to be
dried, pressed flat. Upstairs, someone called
                   my name. What sense would it ever

make to them, the unread world, the getters and spenders, 
if they could not hear what I heard,
              not feel what I felt
              nothing ruined poetry, a voice revived it,
                                              extremity.

The Clerk's Tale

I am thirty-three and working in an expensive clothier, 
selling suits to men I call "Sir."
These men are muscled, groomed and cropped--
with wives and families that grow exponentially.
Mostly I talk of rep ties and bow ties,
of full-Windsor knots and half-Windsor knots,
of tattersall, French cuff, and English spread collars,
of foulards, neats, and internationals,
of pincord, houndstooth, nailhead, and sharkskin.
I often wear a blue pin-striped suit.
My hair recedes and is going gray at the temples.
On my cheeks there are a few pimples.
For my terrible eyesight, horn-rimmed spectacles.
One of my fellow-workers is an old homosexual
who works hard and wears bracelets with jewels.
No one can rival his commission checks.
On his break he smokes a Benson & Hedges cigarette,
puffing expectantly as a Hollywood starlet.
He has carefully applied a layer of Clinique bronzer
to enhance the tan on his face and neck.
His hair is gone except for a few strands
which are combed across his scalp.
He examines his manicured lacquered nails.
I admire his studied attention to details:
his tie stuck to his shirt with masking tape,
his teeth capped, his breath mint in place.
The old homosexual and I laugh in the back
over a coarse joke involving an octopus.
Our banter is staccato, staged and close
like those "Spanish Dances" by Granados.
I sometimes feel we are in a musical--
gossiping backstage between our numbers.
He drags deeply on his cigarette.
Most of his life is over.
Often he refers to himself as "an old faggot."
He does this bemusedly, yet timidly.
I know why he does this.
He does this because his acceptance is finally complete--
and complete acceptance is always
bittersweet. Our hours are long. Our backs bent.
We are more gracious than English royalty.
We dart amongst the aisles tall as hedgerows.
Watch us face into the merchandise.
How we set up and take apart mannequins
as if we were performing autopsies.
A naked body, without pretense, is of no use.
It grows late.
I hear the front metal gate close down.
We begin folding the ties correctly according to color.
The shirts--Oxfords, broadcloths, pinpoints--
must be sized, stacked, or rehashed.
The old homosexual removes his right shoe,
allowing his gigantic bunion to swell.
There is the sound of cash being counted--
coins clinking, bills swishing, numbers whispered--
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. . .
We are changed when the transactions are done--
older, dirtier, dwarfed.
A few late customers gawk in at us.
We say nothing. Our silence will not be breached.
The lights go off, one by one--
the dressing room lights, the mirror lights.
Then it is very late. How late? Eleven?
We move to the gate. It goes up.
The gate's grating checkers our cheeks.
This is the Mall of America.
The light is bright and artificial,
yet not dissimilar to that found in a Gothic cathedral.
You must travel down the long hallways to the exits
before you encounter natural light.
One final formality: the manager checks out bags.
The old homosexual reaches into his over-the-shoulder leather bag--
the one he bought on his European travels 
with his companion of many years.
He finds a stick of lip balm and applies it to his lips
liberally, as if shellacking them.
Then he inserts one last breath mint
and offers one to me. The gesture is fraternal
and occurs between us many times.
At last, we bid each other good night.
I watch him fade into the many-tiered parking lot,
where the thousands of cars have come
and are now gone. This is how our day ends.
This is how our day always ends.
Sometimes snow falls like rice.
See us take to our dimly lit exits,
disappearing into the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul;
Minneapolis is sleek and St. Paul,
named after the man who had to be shown,
is smaller, older, and somewhat withdrawn.
Behind us, the moon pauses over the vast egg-like dome of the mall.
See us loosening our ties among you.
We are alone.
There is no longer any need to express ourselves.

Record

Late night July, Minnesota,
John asleep on the glassed-in porch,
Bob Dylan quiet on a cassette


you made from an album
I got rid of soon after
you died.  Years later,


I regret giving up
your two boxes of vinyl,
which I loved.  Surely


they were too awkward,
too easily broken
for people who loved music


the way we did.  But tonight
I’m in the mood for ghosts,
for sounds we hated: pop,


scratch, hiss, the occasional
skip.  The curtains balloon;
I’ve got a beer; I’m struck


by guilt, watching you
from a place ten years away,
kneeling and cleaning each


with a velvet brush before 
and after, tucking them in
their sleeves.  Understand,


I was still moving then.
The boxes were heavy.
If I had known



I would stop here
with a husband to help me
carry, and room—too late,


the college kids pick over
your black bones on Mass. Ave.,
we’ll meet again some day


on the avenue but still,
I want to hear it,
the needle hitting the end


of a side and playing silence
until the arm gives up,
pulls away.