When Robert Bly read a poem by his longtime friend Tomas Tranströmer, he grew animated, his voice dipping and swaying. On Tuesday at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, the 86-year-old Minnesota writer read aloud from “Airmail: The Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Tranströmer,” a collection of their exchanges over nearly 50 years, published this month by Minneapolis’ Graywolf Press. Poet Thomas R. Smith, who spent 10 years editing the collection, noted that he did not actually devote a full decade to the book. “The manuscript languished half-finished in a drawer until October 2011, when Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize for literature —after which I worked on it furiously.” The letters, sometimes teasing, sometimes serious, always affectionate, reflect the close friendship between the two poets. They touched on life in the country (both in Minnesota and in Sweden), the Vietnam war, Lyndon Johnson, and their own work. Getting published in Bly’s magazine, The Sixties, Transtromer wrote, is “fully comparable to arriving in Valhalla and drinking beer with the heroes.” At the end of the evening, a Graywolf editor read one last letter—an e-mail, sent on Monday by Tranströmer. “Robert, we both have reached that time in life when we must avoid the really long trips,” he wrote. “That’s why I am not right now by your side as our letters are opened in Minneapolis for everyone to read. But, as always, I await a spirited letter from you about this evening.”
When Toki met Tracy
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world:Twin Cities hip-hop star Toki Wright was paid a surprise visit by none other than “30 Rock’s” odd man out, Tracy Morgan, at his concert at the Top Hat in Missoula, Mont., last week. With fellow Twin Cities rapper Carnage also on the bill, along with Kristoff Krane, I.W. wonders if Missoula’s African-American population doubled that day. “It definitely wasn’t the likeliest of cities,” marveled Wright, who has been playing towns like that for years, as is the m.o. of his label Rhymesayers. Morgan’s tour, which hit Burnsville two weeks ago, is following a similar non-urban trajectory. Wright was approached by the obviously not bashful Morgan onstage. “He told me I should be playing somewhere else, which was meant as a compliment.” The two later exchanged info, and Morgan pledged they would work together down the line. Wonder if the comic might invite Wright to open his May 4 show at the Pantages in Minneapolis.
Old kid on the block
When the Minnesota Opera concludes its 50th season with Puccini’s “Turandot,” there will be a singer who was in the first cast when the company opened in 1963. Vern Sutton will sing the Emperor in the production that opens Saturday at the Ordway Center. “It’s a famous tenor emeritus role,” Sutton said. “I decided I would like to do it. Tenor emeritus means it’s more like a baritone, so I can handle that.” Sutton was in Dominick Argento’s “The Masque of Angels” when Center Opera opened in the Guthrie Theater in 1963 and he performed regularly until 1985. Sutton, a retired U of M music professor, stays active as a singer and director. He isn’t worried about stage fright after not singing with the Opera for almost 30 years. “No, I’ve never had stage fright,” he told I.W. “I can’t wait to get out there.”
For the second consecutive year, the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis has been named Best World Music Venue in About.com reader’s poll. Not only does the Cedar present a terrific summer African series (Femi Kuti and Amadou & Mariam are among this year’s attractions) but it also brings stand-out musicians from around the globe during the entire year. Too bad the Cedar couldn’t have presented Iceland’s Sigur Ros, which landed at the acoustically challenged Roy Wilkins Auditorium Wednesday. Just imagine a week of Sigur Ros at the Cedar.
Rebecca Pidgeon arrived at the Dakota Jazz Club Tuesday as a hyphenate. She’s the actress-singer-songwriter-wife of writer-director David Mamet. After her set opening for pop-jazz thrush Madeleine Peyroux, add comic to Pidgeon’s credits. Following her five-song performance of mostly wistful original tunes, she urged the club-goers to buy her 2012 album, “Slingshot,” at intermission. “We’ll sign the record,” Pidgeon said. “We’ll also sleep with you. I am from L.A. It’s a good deal: nice music, $15 and some loving.”
Robin flies away
This will be Robin Gillette’s last year at the helm of the Minnesota Fringe Festival. She announced Monday that she’ll step down as executive director after this year’s 10-day celebration in August. Gillette told I.W. in an e-mail that she doesn’t know what she wants to do next. “True story — I figure I’ll see what the universe has to offer. I’m hoping very much to stay local, however.” She is the longest-tenured Fringe executive director, having come over in September 2006 after a stint as Mixed Blood’s marketing and community relations director. Her first Fringe, in 2007, provided a big challenge as the festival opened the weekend after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse. In 2010, the festival hit a record 50,222 tickets sold. Significant for an organization that had rocky finances early in its existence, the Fringe has established a cash reserve of about $100,000. Box office payout for artists has increased 34 percent during Gillette’s term and the number of individual donors rose 43 percent. This will be the Fringe’s 20th year.