Last night, four memoirsts (myself included) read at the invitation of St. Paul poet laureate Carol Connolly as part of her remarkable, long-running reading series. This is the series’ thirteenth year, and the monthly event now takes place in the University Club on Summit Avenue in a lovely big room with a coffered ceiling, an enormous white-brick fireplace, and tall arched windows that look out on the Mississippi River. Anybody’s prose would sound good in a place like that.
But Connolly chose well, and the three other women who read—well, their prose would sound good anywhere.
Patricia Weaver Francisco (author of “Telling”), Margot Fortunato Galt (“Turning the Feather Around”), and Elaine Wagner (“Feeling the Distance”) amused and delighted the substantial audience, who filled the chairs, crowded together on a side ledge, sipped goblets of red wine, laughed generously, took pictures, looked out the big windows at the sparkling river, and, when the time came, bought books, God love 'em.
There were common themes among the essays, however inadvertent: travel, loss, beauty and grief. Francisco’s essay, “Cezanne’s Pipe,” was about traveling to France with her husband to heal after the death of her mother. Galt--resplendent in a fuschia skirt and blue stockings--wrote with humor about traveling abroad with her daughter. And when she was done, Connolly said, “We all know that daughter. Some of us have been that daughter.”
And Wagner, a retired librarian from Highland Park, delighted the crowd with her funny, poignant essay about fleeting beauty, aging, and loneliness, all framed in a walk through her neighborhood. “I want to explain the Sean Connery reference,” she said, before beginning. “It sounds like we are intimate. I want to explain that he’s a narrative device.” And the crowd laughed appreciatively—and laughed again when Connery made his appearance in the essay, dressed in a kilt, with the wind blowing through.
As Connolly passed a red cookie tin through the crowd—not for us to take cookies from, sadly, but for us to put money into, to help support Public Arts St. Paul---Marcus Young took the podium. Young is St. Paul’s artist in residence (and how I love living in a city with an artist in residence), and the genius (so says Connolly, and who would disagree?) behind Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk.
He was there to announce the winners of this year’s sidewalk poetry competition, those five lucky people whose short poems will be pressed into wet cement all over St. Paul this coming summer. “Ten days ago, we selected five winners,” Young said. There were 584 poems entered, by 362 people. His goal, he said, is to get everyone in St. Paul to enter the competition. “I think it is our civic duty to submit poems,” he said. “Because there is a poet in all of us.”
The submissions “made us think and made us laugh.” They touched on all kinds of topics—sports, chores, the weather, “and, always, the love of St. Paul.”
The winners: Michael Murphy, Michael Russelle, Louis diSanto, Sara Clark, and Lillian Rupp, age 9, who wrote the shortest poem, just six words:
Genius! “The goal is to slowly turn St. Paul into a book,” Young said. “Thank you for helping pave St. Paul’s streets with poetry.”
The next Carol Connolly reading will be June 15, to celebrate Bloomsday. She promises great words, and live music.
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