When Joyce Sutphen inquired about the time limit for her reading--was it seven minutes, or eight?--Danny Klecko, filling in as emcee for an ailing Carol Connolly, said, "You're poet laureate--we'll give you nine."
This month's Readings by Writers had an autumnal tone, with eight writers reading, mostly (but not always) seasonal work.
Sutphen--who is, indeed, the Minnesota poet laureate--read "The Fields in Late October," "One Afternoon in Early Autumn," "Autumn Again" and several other poems grounded in nature, change, and imminent loss (and not taking nine minutes, barely taking seven).
"The fields are sleeping. Do not disturb them," she read.
And, "I swear the sound of a train still makes me lonely."
Such poignant poems, but on her way back to her seat, Sutphen gave a happy little skip.
Rebecca Kanner, whose novel "Esther" will be published in November, was so conscious of the time limit (Klecko had jokingly threatened to bring out the hook if anyone went long) that she started the timer on her phone before reading from her first novel, "Sinners and the Sea," a fictional account of the life of Noah's wife and the great flood. What she read was so riveting, so powerful, that there wasn't another sound in the room than her quiet voice. She had hoped to read from "Esther," but the timer showed that she was out of minutes, and she gathered up her books and went back to her seat.
(I am pretty sure the hook would not have come out, had she read on.)
Mark Berriman followed Sutphen, drawing gasps from an audience possibly unprepared for his funny but also off-color poems about St. Paul. But before he began, he looked out at Sutphen and said, "I told you on Saturday [at the Twin Cities Book Festival] that I didn't want to follow you."
Then he decided to look on the bright side. In the past few weeks, he said, he's opened for Venus de Mars and other local celebrities. "Now I can say that Joyce Sutphen has opened for me."
The Carol Connolly Readings by Writers take place monthly at the University Club on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. They are free, but St. Paul poet laureate Connolly passes the hat for local art projects -- Everyday Poems for City Sidewalks for many years, and now the St. Paul Almanac. Here's hoping she is feeling better and is back at the podium in November. Klecko was a great fill-in, but Connolly was missed.