St. Paul poet laureate Carol Connolly. Photo by Tom Sweeney

St. Paul poet laureate Carol Connolly. Photo by Tom Sweeney

 Carol Connolly was laughing this morning when asked about winning this year's Kay Sexton Award, which goes to someone who has made substantial and long-standing contributions to the world of books and reading in the Twin Cities.

"I was absolutely stunned when I got the call," she said. "Stunned and grateful, though who knows how deserving?"

Deserving, indeed. Connolly is St. Paul's Poet Laureate, named in 2006 and appointed for life. She has been running a well-received authors' series for the last 13 years, mixing it up by bringing in big names, newbies, unpublished writers, first-time authors, and everyone in between. She passes the hat each time, and the donations go to Public Arts St. Paul and Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk, that program that embeds short poems into fresh concrete in neighborhoods around St. Paul.

She also, as poet laureate, is called upon to write poems for various civic occasions. "I think my first poem was in honor of the mayor's budget address, and the budget wasn't so hot," she said.

Connolly's first book of poetry, "Payments Due," was published in 1985. She has also written comedy, essays, opinion pieces, a gossip column, and political commentary. Her newest book is "All This and More," published in 2009 by Nodin Press.

Connolly will be honored at the Minnesota Book Awards Gala event on April 16 in downtown St. Paul. The Kay Sexton award has been given to a long line of notable Minnesota books people, including Norton Stillman, Carolyn Holbrook, and Patrick Coleman. Coleman was one of the people who nominated Connolly this year. "He said he wanted a decent line of succession after his appointment," she said, and laughed again.

You can watch a video of Connolly reading a poem here. And you can follow along with the text below.

Poem for the Second Inauguration of
Mayor Chris Coleman on January 4, 2010
We stand on the edge of a New Year, full,
it is, of endless possibilities. Somehow, we
climbed the steep hills of the year just past,
none of it easy, our seven hills dotted
with lights steady in the dark of night, hills
alive now with the beauty of a new snow that
stopped traffic everywhere. Our city kept on
moving, speeding into this New Year in ways
never imagined by those who came before us,
who shook the hand of President Teddy Roosevelt
a century ago. He paraded through our city streets,  
health care for all first on his list of critical issues.
Those who came before us may have held his hope
as they boarded the Empire Builder in the Union Depot,
never imagining it would be home, as it is, to the
speed of light rail. The sun can be a golden globe,
high in the winter sky. Its light does not blind us
to the many heroes among us, those who work
hardest and are often least rewarded, or those
pummeled by the economy, or our young women
and men in military uniform, fighting and dying in ways
we cannot imagine. We bow to all of them, take time now
to lace our skates, move onto the smooth ice of a city rink,
shoot a puck, or execute a perfect figure eight,
the number that signals prosperity, and begin
the long glide into our future, led by our young mayor.
He abandoned a call to higher office, and is with us
in this New Year, full, it is, of endless possibilities.
Tonight, the sun will set, the lights on the
High Bridge will come alive, burn steady,
arrow straight across the mighty river
that runs through our city, and with hope,
and every good intention, we move
forward into this New Year.          
 –Carol Connolly

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