April is poetry month, and St. Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connolly is pulling out all the stops with her monthly Readings by Writers. Robert Bly, Thomas R. Smith, Freya Manfred and Louis Jenkins will read at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (April 15) at the University Club on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. I've attended four or five Bly events in the last couple of years, and each time, frankly, have wondered if it would be his last. The venerable National Award Winning poet is 87 years old, his memory is beginning to fade, he has nothing left to prove. But in October, when he launched his latest book, “Stealing Sugar from the Castle,” he rose to the occasion on stage, telling stories, cracking gentle jokes, reciting some of the poems rather than reading them.
Thomas R. Smith is the author of six books of poetry and is the editor of "Airmail: The Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Transtromer," published by Graywolf Press.
Freya Manfred is the author of "Swimming with a Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle," "The Blue Dress," and many other works of poetry. She is also the author of "Frederick Manfred: A Daughter Remembers."
Last year, with its debut literary festival, the group known as Cracked Walnut promised a reading a day for a full month. This year they're doing almost as well: The second literary series debuts on Wednesday, April 2, and will run through May 7 with readings if not every single day, at least several times a week.
Cracked Walnut is the brainchild of Hamline University MFA candidate Satish P. Jayaraj, who found himself surrounded by writers (no surprise, in an MFA program) and was looking for a way to establish a venue for reading.
This year's 25 readings will take place in coffee shops, galleries, libraries, museums, a hospital, and other offbeat places--mainly in the Twin Cities, but also in Duluth and Rochester--and will include more than 100 writers. Each reading carries a different theme.
The lineup includes poets Tim Nolan, Ethna McKiernan, Adrienne Miller, Ryan Vine, Margaret Hasse and Matt Mauch. (Full disclosure: I am reading, too.) The list is still being firmed up and you can check back at www.crackedwalnut.com for updates.
Here's the whole list, current as of today:
Wednesday April 2nd 7:00 pm (Mirror Mirror on the Wall)
Underground music Café ‘Coffee Grounds’ (1579 Hamline Ave N, St Paul, MN 55108)
featuring: Laurie Hertzel, Kelly Hansen Maher, Maya Washington, Nick Metcalf,
Chilli Lor, Hawona Sullivan Janzen
Thursday April 3rd 7:00 pm (Richfield CW Festival Reading)
Richfield Community Center (7000 Nicollet Ave S Minneapolis, Minnesota 55423)
featuring: Vanessa Ramos, Anika Fajardo, Philip Simondet, Ted King,
Lorissa Gottschalk, Maggie Ryan Sandford,
Friday April 4th 20th 7:00 pm (Hooked)
The Coffee Shop Ne (2852a Johnson St. NE, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55418)
featuring: Creating community in average spaces through the magic of spoken literature, Evan Kingston, Laura Theobald
Patrick Werle, Mary Harold, Sharkhooks
Saturday April 5th 7:00pm (What Does Your Fox Say)
Blackdog Coffee and Wine Bar (308 Prince Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55101)
featuring: Wendy Skinner, Mona Susan Power, Ardie Medina,
Brian Baumgart, Marjorie Hakala, George J Farrah
Sunday April 6th 11:00 am (Fitting In)
Black Sheep Coffee Cafe (705 Southview Boulevard, South Saint Paul, Minnesota 55075)
featuring: Pam Schmid, Andrea Jenkins, Lisa Ann Pierce, Kimberly Eridon
Chris Vaughan, Jennifer Bowen Hicks, Andrew Cleary
Wednesday April 9th10:20am (Amplatz Children’s Hospital CW Festival Reading)
U of M Amplatz Children’s Hospital (2450 Riverside Ave., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55454)
featuring: Rebecca Ramsden, Bruce Peck, Satish Jayaraj, Anne Sawyer-Aitch
Thursday April 10th 7:00 pm (It’s a Wonderful Life)
J. Arthur’s Coffee (2441 Rice Street, Roseville, Minnesota 55113)
featuring: Paula Cisewski, Sarah Turner, Margaret Hasse
River Urke, Jamie Hagg, Kevin Hershey, Mindy Mejia
Friday April 11th 7:00 pm (Legacy and Heritage)
Royal Grounds (4161 Grand Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55409)
featuring: Sandra Evans, Chay Douangphouxay, Kris Bigalk
Saturday April 12th 7:00 pm (St Thomas Academy CW Festival Reading)
St Thomas Academy (949, Mendota Heights, MN 55120)
featuring: Donna Isaac, Satish Jayaraj, Michael Kiesow Moore, Tom Ferderer
Sunday April 13th 7:00 pm (Rochester CW Festival Reading)
C4 Creative Salon (324 1st St SW, Rochester, Minnesota 55902)
featuring: Daniel Solis, Emily Urness, Steven Vogel, Josh Fischer, Katrina Wollet, Matt Dahl
Monday April 14th 7:00 pm (Be a Lady)
Diamonds Coffee Shoppe (1618 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55413)
Featuring: Patricia Francisco, IBé, Matt Mauch, Rebecca Song
David Stein, Krisanne Dattir, Jenny McDougal
Thursday April 17th 7:00 pm (Divinity and Humor)
Angry Catfish Bicycle and Coffee Bar (Angry Catfish Bicycle and Coffee Bar)
featuring: Linda White, Kate Lynn Hibbard, Kristin Laurel, Benjamin Kowalsky,
Bryan Mazo, Lennon Sundance
Friday April 18th 7:00 pm (Home and Away)
Cahoots Coffee Bar (1562 Selby Ave Saint Paul, Minnesota 55104)
featuring: Jen March, Michael Dean, Ka Zoua Vang,
Louis Murphy, Darci Schummer
Saturday April 19th 7:00 pm (Duluth CW Festival Reading)
Prøve Gallery (21 N Lake Ave, 21 N Lake Ave, Duluth, MN 55802)
featuring: Ryan Vine, Satish Jayaraj, Felicia Schneiderhan
Monday April 21st 7:00 pm (Be a Man)
Hamline Midway Library (1558 W Minnehaha Ave, St Paul, MN 55104)
featuring: Andrew Blissenbach, Colin Mcdonald, Kate Shuknecht,
Ariane Sandford, Thomas Rohde, Moheb Soliman
Friday April 25th 7:00 pm (#phobia)
Hillside Chapel (2610 19th Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418)
featuring: Leslie Adrienne Miller, Paul Canada,
Karen Youso, Sarah Hayes, Lisa Brimmer
Saturday April 26th 1:00 pm (Urbanization)
Mill City Museum (704 S 2nd St, Minneapolis, MN 55401)
Featuring: Saymoukda Vongsay, Tim Nolan, Carla Hagen,
Tracy Harris, Amy Salloway
Sunday April 27th 4:00pm (War and Strife)
Boneshaker Books (2002 23rd Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55404)
featuring: Ethna Mckiernan, Khary Jackson, Dain Ingebretson,
Wednesday April 30th 7:00 pm (Beware the Elements)
Fireroast Café (3800 37th Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55406)
Thursday May 1st 7:00 PM (The Final Frontier)
Solar Arts Building ( 711 15th Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413)
Paula Cisewski, Alison Morse, Chris Title,
Paige Riehl, Peter Stein, Lynne Kuechle,
Friday May 2nd 7:00 PM (Year of the Horse)
Solomon’s Porch(100 W 46th St, Minneapolis, MN 55419)
Featuring: Victoria Peterson Hilleque, (more to come)
Saturday May 3rd 1:00 PM (Masks of Power)
Books and Tea(325 West 7th Street, St Paul, MN 55102)
Sunday May 4th 7:00 PM (Good and Evil)
Café Bene(53 Cleveland Ave S, St Paul, MN 55105)
featuring: Josh Wodarz (more to come)
Tuesday May 6th 7:00 PM (The Witching Hour)
Claddagh Coffee (459 7th St W, St Paul, MN 55102)
Wednesday May 7th 6:00 PM (Transmutation)
Peace Coffee shop Wonderland Park(3262 Minnehaha Ave. Minneapolis, Minnesota 55406)
It's cold outside but it's warm inside--inside bookstores and colleges, libraries and coffee shops and performance spaces, and if you can make it out of your alley and not spin out at those icy intersections you might want to check out some of these spring literary events coming up in the Twin Cities. And yes, I am using the word "spring" very loosely. And yes, I am bitter.
The list is long and I am not pretending to be comprehensive. Please feel free to add any missing events in the comments, so send me an email and I'll update this. Events are free unless otherwise noted. Here goes:
Talk of the Stacks with Lorrie Moore: 7 p.m. March 7, Central Library, Nicollet Mall
You know the drill--doors open at 6:15 and people start lining up ahead of time. Get there early. Some late arrivals might have to go into an overflow room, which was the case when Amy Tan spoke here last fall. The hour-long reading/q&a will be followed by a reception and booksigning.
Club Book with P.S. Duffy, 7 p.m. March 11, Merriam Park Library, St. Paul
P.S. Duffy, who lives in Rochester, is the author of "The Cartographer of No-Man's Land."
Birchbark Books Reading Series: 7 p.m. March 12, Bockley Gallery, Minneapolis
William Bearhart, Sun Yung Shin, Cole Bauer, and Margaret Hasse will read their poetry.
Poetry Out Loud State Competition: 11:30 a.m. March 13, Pohlad Hall, Central Library, Minneapolis
One high school from this competition will go on to represent Minnesota at the national finals in Washington, D.C., in April. Yes, poetry is a competitive sport! (Shouldn't it have letter jackets? With lots of letters?)
University of Minnesota "First Books": 7 p.m. March 13, Weisman Art Museum
This is a spring tradition at the U, a reading by new authors. This year, the three authors--all of nonfiction--will be in conversation with Chris Fischbach, publisher of Coffee House Press (which published two of the books).
Authors are: Kate Hopper ("Ready for Air," University of Minnesota Press), Andy Sturdevant ("Potluck Supper with Meeting to Folow"), and Joshua Ostergaard ("The Devil's Snake Curve: A Fan's Notes from Left Field").
Minnesota Book Awards Nominee Readings: 7 p.m. March 14, The Loft, Minneapolis
This is always a fun event, with most of the 30 or so finalists for the Minnesota Book Award reading from their nominated works.
Normandale Community College Writing Festival: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., March 19
This is the fifth annual festival, which is free and open to the public. Keynote speeches will be by Sarah Stonich ("Vacationland") and Benjamin Percy ("Red Moon"). Other speakers include Swati Avasthi and Ed Bok Lee.
Club Book with Nikki Giovanni and Dave Zirin, 7 p.m. March 19, Southdale Library, Edina
Dave Zirin is a sportwriter and the author of "Game Over: How Politics Have Turned the Sports World Upside Down." Nikki Giovanni is, of course, a poet, winner of an American Book Award.
North Hennepiin Community College Meet the Authors Reading Series, March 20 and April 21
I'm sorry that you've already missed the first two in the series--Kao Kalia Yang and Matt Rasmussen. But YA author Pete Hautman will read at 11:30 a.m. March 20, and Heid Erdrich will read at 10 a.m. April 21.
Echoes Across the Pond--Voices Irish & American: 7 p.m. March 26, The Loft at Open Book
Poets Joyce Sutphen, Tim Nolan, Patricia Kirkpatrick, Anne-Marie Fyfe, and C.L. Dallat.
Cracked Walnut Reading Festival: April 2-May 1, various spots around the Twin Cities and Duluth
The second annual spring series from this group will hold readings at coffee shops, community centers, and other neighborhood locations for most of April. The list of readers is long (and full disclosure, I will be one of them), and is still in the works, but it includes Margaret Haase, Mona Susan Power, Ryan Vine, Pam Schmid, and Anika Fajardo.
Talk of the Stacks with Ron Padgett: 7 p.m. April 3, Central Library, Mpls.
Poet Ron Padgett, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in poetry and also an editor and translator, has published his collected works this year with Coffee House Press.
Minnesota Book Awards Gala: 7 p.m. April 5, The Historic Union Depot, St. Paul
The glittering event of the season. Dress up (in black, of course, and maybe a hat with a jaunty feather? Or some jet beads? Go nuts), enjoy some jazz, have a glass of wine, and find out who wins the trophies this year. Tickets are $45 and you can register online here.
Club Book with Brian Freeman: 7 p.m. April 7, Rum River Library, Anoka
Minnesota writer Brian Freeman is the best-selling author of the Jonathan Stride mysteries.
David Mitchell: 7:30 p.m. April 9, Northrop Auditorium, University of Minnesota
Part of the notable Esther Freier Endowed Lectures, a continuing series that brings in significant authors to speak at a free event. Mitchell will discuss "Cloud Atlas," and will give a few peeks into his sixth novel, "The Bone Clocks," to be published in September. These lectures tend to fill up fast; go early.
Lawrence O'Shaughnessy Award for Poetry: 7 p.m. April 11, University of St. Thomas
This year's winner is Irish poet Catherine Phill MacCarthy, from Dublin. Go for the accent, stay for the poetry.
Club Book with Peter Geye and Amy Greene: 7 p.m. April 15, Roseville Library
Geye, who lives in Minneapolis, is the author of "Safe from the Sea" and "The Lighthouse Road," chosen as a 2014 World Book Night selection. Greene, a novelist, is the author of "Long Man," published this month by Alfred A. Knopf.
Poetry readings: 7 p.m. April 22, the Loft at Open Book, Minneapolis
Kate Green, Jane Yolen and Susan Deborah King read from their new books.
World Book Night: April 23, all day long, everywhere
This will be the third year for World Book Night in the United States (it's been going on longer in the UK), a day (and night) during which volunteers hand out free paperback copies of selected books to random folks. This year's titles includes books by Minnesota writers Garrison Keillor, Peter Geye, Eleanor Brown, and Cheryl Strayed. Try to hang out in a place where you think a giver might happen by. Good luck nabbing a free book.
Club Book with Amanda Coplin: 7 p.m. April 24, Stillwater Public Library
Amanda Coplin, who earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota, is the author of the highly acclaimed novel, "The Orchardist."
PenPals Lecture Series with Art Spiegelman: 7:30 p.m. April 24 and 11 a.m. April 25, Hopkins Arts Center
Artist and illustrator Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, "Maus," an illustrated history of the Holocaust (told by a mouse). Tickets are $50-40 and available here.
The Great Twin Cities Poetry Read: 7 p.m. April 26, Augsburg College, Minneapolis
Thirty poets will each read one poem. Names? Here's all thirty, in groups of five:
William Waltz, Elisabeth Workman, Sarah Fox, Christopher Bolin, Chay Douangphouxay.
Katrina Vandenberg, Kate Shuknecht, Patrick Werle, Jessica Welu, Heid Erdrich.
Paula Cisewski, Chris Martin, Dobby Gibson, Angela Mason, Jenny McDougal
Patricia Kirkpatrick, Dessa, Mary Austin Speaker, Sun Yung Shin, Kate Green
Betsy Brown, Kavi Jointe, Seth Abramson, Matt Mauch, Brad Liening
Steve Healey, Matt Rasmussen, MC Hyland, Emily Fedoruk, Tai Coleman
Children's and Young Adult Literature Conference: April 25-27, the Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis.
Register online here for the conference, which will feature workshops, lectures and panel discussions with Anne Ursu, Pete Hautman, Brian Ferrey-Latz, Molly Beth Griffin, and many others.
PenPal Lecture Series with Tracy K. Smith: 7:30 p.m. May 8 and 11 a.m. May 9, Hopkins Center for the Arts
Tracy K. Smith's "Life on Mars," published by Graywolf Press, won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. Tickets are $50-40 and are available here.
Talk of the Stacks with Francine Prose: 7 p.m. May 12, Central Library, Minneapolis
Francine Prose is a novelist and essayist; her new book, "Lovers at the Chameleon Club," will be published March 1.
And let's not forget all of the authors who will be coming through your neighborhood bookstores--Common Good Books, Once Upon a Crime, the various Barnes and Nobles, Magers & Quinn, Chapter 2, Valley Booksellers, Excelsior Bay, SubText, the Bookcase of Wayzata, Micawber's, Wild Rumpus, Red Balloon: check their websites for events.
And by the time you've gone to all of this events, it really and truly will be spring.
The women weren't exactly sedate, but they read from printed scripts--poetry, book excerpts, essays--and they mostly kept to the time limit. Within those constraints, though, there was much room for laughter and poignancy, as Heid Erdrich read poems that she had "sneaked into" her new cookbook, "Original Local," and Mary Lou Judd Carpenter read from a memoir she has written about her parents, "Miriam's Words: The Personal Price of a Public Life." (Her father was congressman Walter Judd, and the memoir draws heavily on the letters of his wife, Miriam.) Eleanor Leonard read an essay about lighting the candles on a tree and singing "Silent Night."
But the men! Whoa! Less reading than performance art, spoken word, with props.
Last night's Readings for Writers (holiday edition), coordinated and emceed, as usual, by St. Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connolly, was unexpectedly raucous and, at times, side-splittingly funny. Not what you might expect for a literary evening at the sedate and dignified University Club.
Poet Mike Finley, blue-eyed and cherubic, pulled a tinsel-bedecked hat out of a bag, placed it solemnly on his head, then pulled out a big gold Christmas stocking and began fishing around inside of it, drawing out slips of paper at random and reading them. Not poems, exactly, but more than jokes, they first startled, then amused the audience. (The first one: "Why / is that frisbee / getting bigger? / and then it hits me....")
Poet and memoirist Ted King pulled on a Santa hat, claimed that Ted King couldn't make it and had sent Santa in his place, and then began spinning fantastic stories, seemingly off the top of his head, about the original Santa giveaway (which involved theft).
Baker-poet Danny Klecko never opened his prop bag, just pounded it on the podium dramatically as he read a poem about urging one of his pastry chefs to steal Garrison Keillor's salt and pepper shakers. Was that what was in the bag? The last line of the poem tells us that the contents "I'm not at liberty to discuss."
At 9 p.m., just as Tim Nolan, the last poet of the evening, approached the podium, a dozen or so people screamed, "Snow emergency!" and fled to move their cars. Nolan looked wryly at Connolly and said, "You mention my name and people head for the door."
He carried only a sheaf of paper with him, but it turned out that he, too, had props: As he read his final poem, "Shoes," he removed his shoes and placed them on the podium in front of him. He made it almost all the way through the poem before stopping, sniffing the air, and saying, "Oooh, my shoes stink." And then, "That's not part of the poem."
The annual event is free but passes the hat for Public Art St. Paul.
He is not angry anymore, no longer a rabble-rouser. There was no sitar accompaniment, no drums, no rubber masks, no embroidered vest. Robert Bly is old now, and a wee bit forgetful, but he still knows how to put on a show, and he still comes deeply alive for poetry. On Wednesday evening, he launched his latest book, "Stealing Sugar From the Castle: Selected and New Poems 1950-2013," at the University of Minnesota in front of about 250 people.
After a tender and lengthy introduction by writer Michael Dennis Browne (who recalled helping to jumpstart Bly's blue P lymouth after a night of poetry in Minneapolis in 1967, and who also recalled how Bly once damned-with-faint-praise a poem written by one of Browne's students, saying it was as exciting as the phrase "I almost went to Hawaii once"), Bly and his friend and fellow poet Thomas R. Smith took the stage.
With Smith holding the microphone and occasionally offering a gentle prompt, Bly read. Twenty-five poems, some of the lines and stanzas read more than once, in the way that Bly does, for emphasis. He was playful and sly, joking after a couple of poems that he had no idea what they meant. He beat out a rhythm with his hand, he sometimes lapsed into funny voices, taking on characters. ("One day a mouse called to me from his curly nest: / 'How do you sleep? I love curliness,' " and giving the mouse a squeaky voice.)
He turned serious with "When My Dead Father Called," and then deliberately broke the mood afterward by saying, "Did I really write this? My memory's so bad every time I read one of my own poems I think I've never read that before."
But he had of course proved that wrong just a few minutes before, reciting--not reading--"Poem in Three Parts," looking out at the crowd with those blue blue eyes of his, never glancing down at the page.
While it might be early poems such as that one that are imbedded in his brain, his newer poems, dealing poignantly with aging and dying, were deeply affecting. In "Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat," he says: "It's hard to grasp how much generosity / Is involved in letting us go on breathing, / When we contribute nothing valuable but our grief." And then he stopped, and looked up. "I didn't always believe that," he said; he used to believe we were valued for happiness and fun. And then he read the stanza again.
The poem ends, "Each of us deserves to be forgiven, if only for / Our persistence in keeping our small boat afloat / When so many have gone down in the storm."
"When you get to be my age, you notice that," he said. "How many have gone down in the storm."
Such a poignant evening, watching this 86-year-old white-haired man read from fifty years' of poems, watching him grow animated at the sound of his own remarkable words. In the end, of course, thunderous applause, and an uncharacteristic modesty. "It's good of you to clap," he said. "It makes an old Norwegian happy."
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