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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And the Old Man Speaks of Paradise: a Ghazal

 

Do not move. Let me speak of a river in paradise
A turquoise gift from fiery stars that is paradise

How do you measure a river’s weight, color, smell, touch?
How do you feel the veins of sand in a breathing paradise?

Eons of earth story, long before rocks, plants or bones
Bulging with flesh and blood in every corner of paradise

You call me Old Man, 12,000 years old, but really I’m a baby of
River Warren, swollen with glacier water flooding the paradise

My torso sloughed by old ice, two cities on sandstone bluffs
Headwaters of a 2350-mile road towards the gulf of paradise

A walk along the beach, a bag of rocks, fossils and agates
Each tells stories of the river, land & life—a kinship of paradise

Come to me at dawn or dusk, by foot, canoe or a single shell
To greet eagles, cranes, fox, trees…a ten-mile gorge of paradise

Gar, bass, goldeye, redhorse, bowfin, stoneroller, buffalo, drum, sunfish
Sickleback, darter, walleye, dace, mooneye…in the waves of paradise

The St. Anthony Fall that walked up 10 miles from Fort Snelling
Clams and shells in Kasota stones—layered history of paradise

Put your fingers into the bluff, and pull a handful of sand
From the Ordovician sea, each perfect to make a paradise

From time to time, I take you into the amniotic womb
A reminder of our origin from a black, red, white, blue paradise

Do not dam me. To move freely is to evolve is to live
Lock feeds fear feeds hate feeds violence to the base of paradise

The Mississippi, temple on earth, home of all living things
Would you tread with love, through the heart of paradise?

We are water—H2O—two hands under an open heart
Pulsing, dissolving, bonding the earth to a green paradise

Stop seeking before or after life, for a paradise
Already in us, in each cell of being that is paradise

Glacier National Park and the Elegy

for Mike, July 2016


        After Dale’s sudden cancer,    
                                                   his body wasting swiftly to death,
        I didn’t believe in love or beauty,                          or my ability
                    to write poems.
                        And my grieving turned into a sequence of                                                writing 
                                   little hostile elegies
        in solitary sittings.                      Elegies ceased being an                             elegant poetic form.
                                                I guess I was trying to understand  
                                      the shape of a new sorrow in its deep
                                            recognizance; 
        how easily it’s foraged for my marginalized hungers that
                   felt      
                                    legitimately nullified.
        With it, figurative language estranged itself
        from crafting mutable metaphors,
                    of the natural world standing
                                            in its place within adjectival phrases.

Landscape, though permissible, seemed to only swell around 
        retaining rivers beneath my feet with a grave distance.
  Bodies ensued to ashes now,
                         and I didn’t utter dust to dust.
                                        Only after losing many months and time
        I did (slowly) begin to notice a greener (faint) tint to the
                    sunlight.

                                                          This felt like a small divinity.
***

        Finding you was this too,
                                 after such importunate feelings of
                                            abandonment.

I said this is a  remarkable lightness I feel, I couldn’t imagine it
        before I felt it.
 
        You told me to look at the moon.  I did.

        That’s what you did after Marie died.

        You believed all moons in the sky to be
                                             elegiac in a nonfigurative sense,
                                                        real to the eye,
                      therefore, you represented its steadfast truth. 

                                   I proposed then a drive to Glacier National
                                            Park
        thinking of a fine faultless finery—the firs, pines, and
                    stillness.

                                     We drove up—higher than I expected—
        skyward up the steepest corners and edges
                   and I looked out at spring’s     sustenance,
                                                                        an earthwork
                   of forest trees scored in majestic columns, bedded
                                and wooded,
        coated with needles, fully medicinal, 

                   their similes shedding: of giving over the live
                               forested body
        to its eminence.            Of the mountain’s height,
                                    its splendor-drop because of its scare
                                            quality.  
                                                   I felt hesitant to look out. 
        But for descriptors: the rounded grass tufts 
                                  near the car grates  then a hell-drop,
                         a belt of green.
                                                    Stones and gravel and gray peeking
                                                        though.

                                          This driving with you is a climb of faith,
                                            I think,
                        and I feel it along with a helpless irritation of lust
                                in my throat
and gut, and a pair of callous and ashen calves and feet I seem
                                      to have earned.

                            You helped me through a dry summer, fall,                                                winter
        and now                     summer.
        Ten months after he died.  He and I, all these years,
        had never gone to Glacier, 
        only near it to Flathead or Whitefish, to fireplace lodges
                    tucked away.

                                                          I brought you to the Weeping
                                                                    Walls,
        where we turned around,  because you drove still further
        until I threatened fear of heights.
                       I don’t know how to celebrate 100  years
                                                this high up but you do.

        This winding high-up national park with me:
                                   your glasses cocked on your head,
        a strange visor of blackish hair,
                                    camera chest-centered,
                        erect lens outward but modest
                                         two circles looking above my direction
                        at the field of  Beargrass, with its white stalks
        and awkward loomed light.
        I was unable to get out of the car at Heaven’s Peak,
                      because the sublime was frightening
        but I crawled around the side and peered over, and I knew
        I would never use the word               Heaven 
        to describe anything I saw of death, but I saw beauty
                        in a scrap of its light
                                        I was not afraid
        of it taking me with it, the way I had seen him disappear
                    into illness,
                           its extinguishing erasure.

***

I hold you in Glacier 
        where I see you clearly.   

        I will plow the hard-won truth of pitching death
        and flinging its burden into spaces.
        No treason I feel            now (because)
        the eros of the natural world lingers in sentience,

        flooding with its central question of what (life and death)
                       collectively crushes.

        I held onto the silver bumper of your car gripping your
                    hand
        because it was                   your hand and you, too, were
                    silvery
                            behind frank light and squinting
                                             to see into a camera’s moon,
                                                                           a lasting present tense
                                             we just gave ourselves over to, lifted to
                                                     case
                            its blue course: a formal sky of imperturbable
                                clouds,
                                         of unambiguous secularity.

                                         We take a simple walk around the car
                                                 now. 


 


 

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.