As a freshman composition teacher at Southwest Minnesota State University, I see myself as a writing coach, guiding my students from the idea stage of their essays to the final polished piece. In class we become a writing community, and they work hard helping each other in peer critique teams, set up like mini writing groups, coaching each other. By doing so, they become better editors of their own work as well as better writers. With a focus on popular culture, we've discussed reality shows, movies, music and YouTube. Now, at semester's end, as I grade their research papers--with topics such as the values taught in the Harry Potter series to the psychological damage caused by Facebook--I can take it all in, how much they have grown as young writers, how much stronger and well-crafted their sentences have become, how much their critical thinking skills have expanded, and how much they have all taught me in the process.
"Weekends, Sleeping In" by poet Marjorie Saiser is the Poem of the Day on The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keiller. A beautiful poem, like a Chinese painting, just a few brush strokes, yet so vivid and powerful. I met Marjorie at the 2005 Nebraska Summer Writer's Conference in Lincoln, and I remember in our poetry workshop she recited a poem by heart, now one of my favorites, "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden. The words flowed out of her pores, and I wanted that too--to carry poems around in my body, to have that portable sustenance. I'm still working on it.
Marjorie is an outstanding poet, has had a couple other poems featured on The Writer's Almanac, and has a new book this year, Beside You at the Stoplight. I encourage you to get to know her work better.
Former Marshall Independent editor and award-winning journalism Dana Yost, who grew up in Minneota and lived in Cottonwood, has written a new book, The Right Place, available in Marshall, Minneota, Cottonwood, and online. The book focuses on people and places in southwest Minnesota. It is a combination of 12 essays and 10 new poems. The essays include new pieces on the late Minneota Mayor Paul Larson, the 30th anniversary of the Minnesota Machinery Museum in Hanley Falls, stories on local authors Bill Holm, Adrian Louis and Howard Mohr. Currently, The Right Place is available at MAFAC Arts Center, 109 N. 3rd ST. in Marshall, The Minneota Mascot, the Village Court in Cottonwood, and by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. After Jan. 1, it will also be available online at www.ellispress.com. The book costs $12. If ordering by mail, there is s $5 shipping fee. The Right Place is published by Ellis Press of Granite Falls.
As soon as I finish grading papers for this semester, I'm looking forward to reading my copy of Dana's new book. I am a long-time fan of Dana's prose and poetry, and I am giving his book to many friends this Christmas.
For the past couple months, I've been intrigued by the loud mechanical hawk screeches broadcast from our campus football stadium. I asked around and found out they keep birds from flying into the large sky box windows and dying. The presence of hawks is there every morning when I arrive and every evening when I head home. This morning listening to those warning cries, something crystalized, a line of a poem came to me and a metaphor. I went to my office and wrote a poem, "Hawks on Guard." For me, a poem often starts with a "sticky word," as poet and author Kelly Madigan Erlandson calls it, a phrase, or an image that hangs around--like the hawks. The poem is under construction--I'll post it later.
I am inspired by poets who memorize their own poems and recite them by heart at their readings--Philip Dacey, Susan McLean, Beth Ann Fennelly, to name a few. I have memorized one of my favorite poems, "Stepping Westward" by Denise Levertov, and I love that sense of portability--of being able to recite it in my head or share it with someone else wherever and whenever I want to do so. I know some of my own poems by heart, but memorizing more of my own poems and those by others is one of my goals. Do you memorize poems? Why or why not? What are some of your favorite memorized poems?
In the public relations courses I teach at SMSU, I start each class by asking my students if they have any Shameless Plugs for upcoming events on campus. Today I have a Shameless Plug for Nancy Murphy Spicer, who operates Zoom Business and Life Coaching. If you take a brief survey on her web site, you can receive a free 30-minute life coaching sample session. Read her web site, see what her clients say, and think about where you want to go next with your writing, publishing, personal or professional life. As a life coach, Nancy understands the artist's path from firsthand experience as an artist. If you're ready to write your next chapter but need some coaching, you may be ready for Zoom.
Lucia Perillo's beautiful, gutsy poem, "Early Cascade," was chosen as Poem of the Week on narrativemagazine.com. Here's the link:
I could feel the tomato juice running down my chin, and I love the way the speaker in the poem embraces her loneliness.
I like this quote from my daily planner, which is based on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey:
"Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own."
-Charles Scribner Jr.
Every day I stretch my body as I practice yoga. And every day I try to stretch my mind through reading, by thinking with another person's mind.
What reading has stretched your mind lately?
I love to play with words. To capture moments on the page. To explore the physical and spiritual geography of what I call "fly-over country." I write from imagination, observation and my own experience of wandering in fly-over country--the literal, physical spaces of my life on the Minnesota prairie and the inner territory of the soul.