Arden Hills poet Kirsten Dierking's second book, "Northern Oracle," is full of compact verse with startlingly lyrical phrases, such as these lines from the poem "10,000 Lakes."
"In the north, in the short, exquisite / summer, the lake swims into your heart / like love, soothing your skin with the balm / of water, sliding over your body like silk."
Dierking is a traditionalist, writing often of nature, her heritage and growing older. And she is a sensualist. To live through spring's renewal in Minnesota is to " ... admit an animal / lives inside you."
Dipping her hand in a lake, she writes, is a way of touching "the sky of unknowable swimmers / feeding beneath me."
Dierking, who teaches humanities at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids, will read from her new work on Dec. 14 at the Amazon Bookstore in Minneapolis and on Dec. 17 at the Bookshelf in Winona.
Q You write a little about Sept. 11, 2001, and the build-up to the Iraq war. Do events of global political significance feel more weighty than smaller scale events that only happen to you?
A I really didn't start off to write [those poems] that way. It was one of those things that, when it happened, it was so in your thoughts the whole time that -- for a writer -- you couldn't not write about it. And that's how I process things also, through writing and poetry. So I felt compelled to write about it.
Q The book is divided thematically. The first section, "The Animist," feels hypersensitive to beauty in nature and to nature's transformative power -- and that beauty is reflected in the language.
A That's the section that really came out of my aunts going to Finland and finding out that some of my relatives and ancestors were Sami [native people of northern Scandinavia]. And Sami have such a close connection to nature because they've lived off such a harsh land ... for so long that they pay such close attention to nature. And reading about that, about their culture, got me to try to do the same thing also, to pay close attention.
Q So you didn't grow up identifying as Sami?
A No, we just thought that our family was Finnish. ... [The Sami] were discriminated against [in Scandinavia]. So when a lot of them came to North America, they just said they were Finnish or Norwegian, because they spoke those languages, to avoid discrimination. So you have a lot of people here who just think they're Norwegian or Finnish and they really have Sami ancestry as well.
Q To varying degrees, we Americans are cultural mutts. Often we seem to identify as one thing or another based on what feels the most "us" or what's most personally interesting. Is that true for you and Sami traditions?
A I found a lot of it really appealing, because I think that feeling about nature -- that there is a spirituality in nature -- was something that I always felt. And then to find a culture that reflects that also, and which holds that belief, was really important to me.
Q Nature infuses a lot of your work, even when you're writing about politics. The poem "January 2003" seems, at first, to be about the danger of thin ice during an unseasonably warm winter. Then it turns to the president speaking on TV and suddenly you are in a new poem, with the ice and instability as a metaphor for the country's march to war.
A In some ways, it seems to go so naturally together for me. ... Every night on the news they were talking about how thin the ice was, and people kept going out on it anyway and falling through. ... And it fit so well with listening to that State of the Union address, where president Bush was hinting at going to war. And every time he did, all these senators leapt to their feet and cheered. And it seemed to me that the cheering for war was very much reflected in that danger of the thin ice, and people kind of proceeding there anyway even knowing the dangers.
Eric M. Hanson • 612-673-7517