Philip Larkin on reading versus hearing poetry

In order to familiarize myself with the work of English poet Philip Larkin, I recently read his 1982 interview with The Paris Review (its famous "Art of Poetry" series is a resource I encourage all writers to check out). Regarded as one of England's top poets, during his lifetime Larkin shied away from his fame, working … Continue reading Philip Larkin on reading versus hearing poetry

Holding Robert Bly’s Diaries

Going through Bly's diaries and correspondence spanning his entire life, I felt empowered watching this writer grow, discovering that the youthful doubts I harbor are doubts he harbored, too. It felt validating. (I don't expect anyone but the writers in the audience to understand what I mean by this). Sometimes I'd even stumble across lines that, in variation, have appeared in my own diary ...

Writing advice from Bly, Merwin, and Pound: “It’s always good to learn another language and translate”

A few years ago I corresponded with poet Robert Bly, and I asked him what advice he had for young writers. In his late-eighties and ill, I did not expect an answer, and so I was surprised (even more: nervous) when a few weeks later a familiar cream-colored envelope arrived. Opening it, he'd written, "You're wondering what … Continue reading Writing advice from Bly, Merwin, and Pound: “It’s always good to learn another language and translate”

Walking with Paul Gruchow: A Poem

... I'm posting here my submission, which I wrote some time in the fall of 2012 after reading Paul Gruchow's Grass Roots: The Universe of Home (Milkweed Editions, 1995). I was first introduced to his work growing up in Montevideo, MN, which is where he was from, and turned on to his environmental consciousness. If you are interested in Aldo Leopold and "The Land Ethic," you'll enjoy Gruchow's work. Sadly, Gruchow committed suicide in 2004 and so I never had a chance to meet him -- but writers are used to the feeling, I guess. We walk in prose, talk through poems.

A Letter from Charles Bukowski to Robert Bly

Back in November, I wrote about two letters from Garrison Keillor and Bill Holm I found in the University of Minnesota's Robert Bly Papers. What I didn't note is that I also found one from writer Charles Bukowski. Pulling it out of the stack was a surprise -- though it shouldn't have been given Bly's stature in the literary world at the time -- and so I made a copy of it thinking Buk's may be interested. It's not as big of a literary event as the discovery of Neal Cassady's "Joan Anderson letter," but it does include an unpublished poem. ...

Turn Left at Nowhere: A Century of Morris Poetry

"This anthology is a love letter to my newest hometown, to the rural, and to the small," writes Julie Arhelger in the introduction to Turn Left at Nowhere: A Century of Morris Poetry (2014). Compiled as her capstone project for the University of Minnesota Morris' (UMM) honors program*, Turn Left is a lovely volume of pieces inspired … Continue reading Turn Left at Nowhere: A Century of Morris Poetry

Four Newspaper Illustrations from 1914

A century ago, in 1914, war erupted across Europe following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a conflict that by its end claimed 37 million casualties worldwide. It was four years of fighting that closed the 19th century and set the 20th into motion. Because its worst horrors remained to be seen (Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et Decorum est" captures the disillusion well), there was still hope it'd come to a speedy end. Although this small sample is not representative of every published illustration, political cartoon, and comic, it still provides some insight into the nation's feelings of that decisive year. Here we see doubt over the merits of sustaining a standing army (this being 15 years after the Spanish-American War and the nation's first foray into imperialism). We see as well both doubt and optimism for war -- and finally hope for 1915.

A Column in a Newspaper that Doesn’t Exist

My First Column: We're Living in a Russian Novel ... From where I write, Elmer Springs is a pale glow through winter fog, and as the long arms of night stretch across the road, I feel as though I could be anywhere. In fact, as my little wood stove crackles and growls against the cold, I feel like I'm living in a Russian novel. Having grown up here, I know all about Elmer Springs' generational conflict. I know its class tensions (though in a city whose per capita income is less than the state and national averages, antagonisms exist only between the have-nots and have-lesses). Instead of St. Petersburg and Moscow, we have Minneapolis and St. Paul, cities our little state representative decries for its excesses but insists having the right to visit every two years. Whether any of us are Utopians or Anarchists is as much dependent on the number of ducks in the pond as any coherent political philosophy. Perhaps there's a story here, but I have no ambition to be my generation's Tolstoy. ...

Literary Neuroscience as Rehabilitation? (Or, ‘Prevent Crime; Employ English Majors’)

According to neurolaw, a successful and just legal system will be one that concerns itself with the steps moving forward with the specific brain on trial. If our behavior is influenced by our biology and circumstance, it is irreducibly complex to assess a criminal’s culpability in a way that is both satisfying and scientifically-informed. Instead of comparing and judging the sizes of one’s frontal lobe or another part’s propensity for firing (or not firing) certain chemicals while also factoring in one’s upbringing and the effects social institutions can have on our behavior, our legal system should focus on rehabilitation rather than strict punishment. ...