Minnesota poem: It rhymes, but is there reason?

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2013 - 10:54 AM

Not everyone agrees that "Minnesota Blue," by a Hawaiian singer-songwriter, should represent the state.

"Minnesota Blue," a wistful poem that celebrates the state's golden fields of wheat and corn shimmering in the early morn, was written by a singer-songwriter in Hawaii who left Minnesota in 1958.

Should it become Minnesota's official state poem?

A state senator who introduced a bill Wednesday believes so. "I think it's pretty neat," said Sen. Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo.

"I say, no way in hell," said Carol Connolly, St. Paul poet laureate. A state poem "should not be about missing the state, but about celebrating it."

Connolly maintains that the state doesn't need one official state-sanctioned poem. "We have a myriad of talent living and writing good poems in Minnesota," she said. "Instead of designating one state poem, we could designate a state poem of the day, every day. This would be an ongoing homage to Minnesota talent and to our land of lakes."

Minneapolis poet James Lenfestey said the songlike rhyme and meter of "Minnesota Blue," written by Keith Haugen in 1985, could give it wide appeal.

"God bless him," Lenfestey said. "It works wonderfully. Everybody knows limericks, everybody likes meter and rhyme because it works beautifully and people remember it."

In the poem, Haugen yearns for Minnesota forests, lakes and wildlife: "Can you hear the cry of the lonely loon / Do wolves still howl at your full moon."

Still, Lenfestey questioned the purpose of a state poem. "Do states have poems? And, if so, how are they chosen?" he said. "That's an interesting dilemma."

Five other states have official poems, including "Tennessee, My Tennessee" and Oklahoma's "Howdy Folks."

Anderson's bill is brief enough to nearly be a haiku itself. It says only that "Minnesota Blue," written "as a tribute to the state of Minnesota," will be designated the state poem and that a copy of the poem will be placed in the office of the secretary of state.

Beyond that, the duties of the state poem are unclear.

Anderson admits that he hasn't read any poetry since college. He introduced the bill at the request of a constituent who had been approached by Haugen.

Haugen graduated from high school in Lake Bronson, in northwestern Minnesota, in 1958, and has lived in Hawaii for more than 40 years. According to his website, he has written more than 300 poems, most under the pen name Hans Christian Haugen. "Some of Keith's poems have been published," the website says, though it does not say how many or where.

The full poem is at www.startribune.com/a2074.

Joyce Sutphen, the state's poet laureate, said it would be hard to choose just one poem to represent the state. "There are so many deserving people and poems," she said. "'Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,' or 'Driving Toward the Lac Qui Parle River' by Robert Bly or something by Connie Wanek.

"My idea would be that it would be nice to have a spot for different poems to come and go, rather than having One State Poem."

Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302

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