Poets from all over Minnesota will gather April 28-29 to read their poetry and write new poems during the League of Minnesota Poets annual spring conference. Sponsored by Sartell’s Grandview Poets, the event will be held at the Country Inn and Suites West in St. Cloud.
St. Cloud-area poets, under the leadership of Dennis Herschbach of Sartell, planned all the conference details including its theme, “Planting Seeds of Poetry,” scheduling food and facilities, and working out the program.
Herschbach is founder of the League of Minnesota’s St. Cloud area chapter. Their monthly meeting place at Grandview Apartments’ community room lends the group its name.
Herschbach began writing poetry a little more than 12 years ago at the age of 62, three months after the death of his first wife. He remembers the exact day.
“She died in August,” he said, “and Nov. 5, when the nights were getting longer, I sat down to write a poem about our lives…the history of us. It turned out to be a week long-project and I ended up with a five-page poem.”
He showed it to a friend who was a poet and she told him his poetry was good, that he should write more. So he did. As a logger, he had put himself through college to become an aquatic biologist and high school biology teacher in the Duluth area. Later he was a lay minister for the Lutheran church in Castle Danger. All those varied experiences gave him plenty to write about.
“Poetry called to me,” Herschbach said. “I think it was something inside of me that had to get out.”
He wrote a collection of poems that turned into a memoir called Grief Journey, which won a 2010 Northeast Minnesota Book Award. He published five novels and a short collection of poems, and became president of the League of Minnesota Poets. Seven years ago, after marrying a woman from Sartell, he moved here and founded Grandview Poets.
“One of my goals was to expand the group’s parameters and so I just talked around to some people. If I found out they liked poetry I said, ‘Hey, how would you like to start a poetry group?’”
Half a dozen people came together to form the chapter. Hersbach, who continues to serve as its president, said, “We get together and critique each others’ poems, and that’s grown now to 14 or 15 members.”
They will also discuss the conference theme, “Planting Seeds of Poetry,” with keynote speaker Mara Faulkner, OSB, of St. Joseph and special guest Larry Schug, of St. Wendel Township.
“Poets try to express the inexpressible,” Faulkner said at a recent workshop she led at the Spirituality Center of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph. Poetry takes abstract ideas like poverty, love, heroism and grief and moves them into the concrete, sensory world. Senses are the gateway to our emotions. Faulkner said she believes all people, at all stages of life, will respond to poetry if the poem can connect them to their own experiences, their own lives.
“About four years ago I did a project with Good Shepherd nursing home,” Herschbach said. He asked the 12 participants to each bring a photo from their past. “We talked about poetry. I read poems, talked about what makes a poem good. And then I gave them an assignment. Write a poem about that picture.”
One woman brought a picture of a tire swing, with a sunset behind it. She wrote about the empty swing, and the seven children she had not carried to term.
“It was really a good poem,” Herschbach said. He made a book of all the participants’ poems and pictures.
“I’d like to see poetry play a more central role … in our area … just in casual reading,” he said. “People getting enjoyment out of a good book of poetry…reading maybe 10 poems before they go to sleep at night.”
Herschbach thinks poetry has gotten a bad rap. He wishes people would open themselves up to the way poetry can express the inexpressible and help people understand each other on a deeper level. After reading Herschbach’s poetic memoir about losing his wife, one man who had never before read poetry, bought four extra copies to give to his children.
Herschbach said, “He told them, ‘I want you to read this because I’ve never been able to tell you how I feel. This is exactly how I feel. This puts it into the right words.’”
Judith Valente, in her book Twenty Poems to Nourish Your Soul, says poetry can be “a soul friend. It slows us down, helps us to see more deeply. It is a place of discovery.”
The Grandview chapter of the League of Minnesota Poets exists as a place where new and experienced writers can cultivate their “soul friendship” with poetry and with other poets. According to its website, the league was established 84 years ago in 1934 “to make Minnesota poetry-conscious.” All people interested in poetry are invited to attend conferences and meetings either as members or nonmembers.
For more information, visit mnpoets.org. Click on the link “Grandview Poets Monthly Meeting” for information about Grandview Poets chapter meetings in Sartell.
Jim Berg & Mary Kruger
Mary & John Davis
Bobbi & David Gouker
James & marry Graeve
Peggy & Michael Roske
GAGEN & VASUGI RAMANATHAN
Dane & Lori Listug-Lunde