There is poetry everywhere James Marshall Goff treks.
His first book is a collection of selected poems, “Hiking in the Universe,” which Goff admits to getting published after he “scammed the scammer.” The publisher, according to Goff, “promises to do all kind of things with your book” that never happen. “It doesn’t matter because they do it for free. I made sure they did a really nice job. It was more than a south Minneapolis boy ever hoped.”
From 1983 to 1991, Goff managed the four skyway locations of his family’s deli and catering business, Citipicnic. He then became a longtime manager at D Brian’s Deli and Catering, in the Minneapolis skyway; he also is a former Bruegger’s Bagels manager.
Now retired, Goff is personal care attendant for his mom, Margaret Goff. “She’s had three strokes and other stuff,” he said. “I can fix her meals at night and let her live independently and not go to a nursing home.”
He started writing poetry 22 years ago. “When I got divorced, it was a way for me to heal,” Goff said. Now he writes poetry to be “in the moment with nature, my world as I see it, images and lyrical thoughts for people to understand my journey.” Goff wanted his poems in book form “to protect some of my favorite early poems; I have written probably 800-900 poems. I’m a Minnesota boy who has always enjoyed camping on the North Shore with my daughters who are almost 30 and live on the West Coast. I also wanted senior family members to read poems [about themselves] before they pass. One [is a] great aunt in Chicago who was friends with the mother of Al Capone.”
His poetry can be viewed at poetrysoup.com, and also has been published by the Germ, a haiku magazine.
Q: From where does the need to write poetry come?
A: Two reasons: To document my life and to put into words the magic of life around me, a lot of it nature; [I’m also] spiritual about our Minnesota heritage areas, like Lake Superior.
Q: Does everything evoke a poem for you?
A: Yes. I’m a lefthanded Gemini. I’m a little different. I see the magic in everything. I’m Irish Catholic with Native American beliefs.
Q: Which means?
A: I write activist poetry. I write about the Dakota Pipeline and the upcoming problems we are going to have with this new one. I like Louise Erdrich’s poetry. The American Indian Movement has Winona LaDuke as a leader, and I’ve followed her career. There’s a recent poem, “History Repeated in Dakota Territory” [because] I had an experience with Native Americans being treated badly in the ’60s when we were going downtown to church. I try to make a difference.
Q: What would you discuss with Louise Erdrich if you had 15 minutes with her?
A: How she feels we can all become more active helping indigenous people.
Q: I’m curious what you think the difference is between a right- versus lefthanded Gemini?
A: A lefthanded Gemini has more frontal lobe. The right side of the brain is the creative part, and the right front lobe is the creative part of a lefthander. And the Gemini is kind of a sensitive up-and-down personality.
Q: Many who observe the people I think of as the Original Americans don’t have an emotional response to how they have been mistreated, oppressed and discarded on their own property?
A: Because it’s easier for people just to be [in] our distracted world and not meditate on the way things have been or take the time to listen to the Earth and what has gone before.
Q: How do you prefer to write poetry — pen and paper or on a computer?
A: A pen and what my late dad, Marshall A. Goff, used to call a GI pad. I carry it with me when hiking.
Q: At businesses you managed, did you have a method for confronting diners who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay?
A: Sometimes they would try to shortchange me, but I was on to that. I did this more than once, I was kind of known for it on the skyway: If I saw somebody in rough shape and they wandered in, I’d feed them for free and send them home.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.