Monday, May 21, 2012

Monday Muse: Minnesota's Poet Laureate

. . . I also think rules make it possible to break rules. . . .
~ Joyce Sutphen on Writing Sonnets*

Minnesota's second official Poet Laureate is Joyce Sutphen, who succeeded Robert Bly in 2011.

See my post on Bly, who served from February 2008 to August 2011, for details about the establishment and responsibilities of the honorary state position. In a news conference following announcement of her selection, Sutphen stated she hoped to arrange events that will bring together Minnesota's many poets who do readings, "who work in the schools, who put poems into the parks, into galleries, and on sidewalks and in film and on the radio."** Since her appointment, Sutphen has been involved in many poetry readings around the state.

* * * * *
Poetry makes the world real for me . . . In the end,
it isn't hard: When I sit down to write a poem,
one thing just leads to another.
~ Joyce Sutphen***

Called by poet Louis Jenkins "a true daughter of the Minnesota soil", Joyce Sutphen is the author of First Words: Poems (Red Dragonfly Press, 2010), Fourteen Sonnets (Letterpress Ed., Red Dragonfly Press, 2005), Naming the Stars (How Cow! Press, 2004), Straight Out of View (Holy Cow! Press, 2001; Beacon Press, 1995), and Coming Back to the Body (Holy Cow! Press, 2000). She is co-editor, with Connie Wanek and Thom Tammaro, of the anthology To Sing Along the Way: Minnesota Women Poets from Pre-Territorial Days to the Present (New Rivers Press, 2006).

A writer in free verse and forms such as sonnets, Sutphen writes often on childhood and family, everyday rural life, home and place, relationships, poets and poetry, truth and beauty, and mortality (she says she is a fan of memento mori). Her work, Sutphen says, is informed not only by her deep study of Shakespeare but "everything else that I know and love: driving Highway 169 back and forth each day, listening to Bob Dylan, memorizing poems by Emily Dickinson and Yeats, listening to the news, reading poems by my contemporaries, or watching a Little League baseball game."****

Among often-mentioned qualities of Sutphen's poetry are her wit, lyricism, use of metaphor, sensitivity to meter and rhythm, and clarity of vision achieved with largely unadorned and accessible language. Her voice can range from the elegaic to the celebratory, from solemn to joyful. Her imagery gets its strength from the many details she employs to create a particular scene or mood or to share with us a particular memory, as these lines from several of Sutphen's poems show:

[. . .] I thought about the way we'd aged,

how skin fell into wrinkles, how eyes grew
dim; then (of course) my love, I thought of you.
~ from "At the Moment"

[. . .] sometimes you woke because you thought
you heard a cry but they were all sleeping,

so you stood in the moonlight just listening
to their breathing, and you didn't mention

that you were an expert at putting toothpaste
on tiny toothbrushes and bending down to wiggle

the toothbrush ten times on each tooth while
you sang the words to songs from Annie, [. . .]
~ from "Things You Didn't Put on Your Resume"

[. . .] The apples, coming off the peeler,

Are winding staircases, little accordians,
slinky toys, jack-in-the-box fruit, until
my grandmother's paring knife goes slicing
through the rings [. . . .]
~ from "Apple Season"

The image that haunts me is not beautiful.
I do not think it will open into a field 
of wildflowers; [. . .]

[. . .] it takes off its clothes and crawls
between the top and bottom sheet. [. . .]
~ from "In Black"

Sutphen has published poems in American Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, The Atlantic MonthlyPoetry, Minnesota Monthly, North Dakota Review, PoetryShenandoahThe Virginia Quarterly Review, The Writer's Almanac, and numerous other literary periodicals. 

The recipient of a Barnard New Women's Poets Prize (for her debut collection Straight Out of View) and a Minnesota Book Award in Poetry (for Naming the Stars), Sutphen also has been awarded a Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize and a Willow Poetry Prize. The poet was a Witter Bynner Fellow of the Library of Congress in 2006 and George Morrison Artist of the Year in 2009. In addition, she won the 2010 What Light competition for her poem "Polygamy".

Sutphen teaches courses in British literature and creative writing at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.


Photo Credit: Poetry Foundation

All Poetry Quotations © Joyce Sutphen

* Quoted from Connie Wanek, "In the Country for Poets", Minnesota Artists, August 25, 2011

** Quoted from Tim Pugmire, "Joyce Sutphen Named Minnesota Poet Laureate", MPRNews, August 23, 2011.

*** Quoted from Brian Ojanpa, "GAC Professor JoyceSutphen Has Been Named Minnesota's New Poet Laureate", The Free Press, August 23, 2011

**** Quoted from Holly Vanderhaar, "Joyce Sutphen", The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf 

Press Release, "Governor Dayton Names Joyce Sutphen as Poet Laureate", Office of the Governor, August 23, 2011 (Poet's Biography [pdf])

Joyce Sutphen's Poetry Online: "Crossroads" at Academy of American Poets (; "From the 6th Floor" at The Cortland Review; "A Bird in County Clare", "A Kind of Villanelle", "All Reason and No Rhyme", "At the Moment", and "Casino", All at The Poetry Foundation (Others Listed); "Grounded", "The Wordsworth Effect", and 26 Other Poems at The Writer's Almanac; "Tornado Warning", "The Bob Dylan Dream", "Death Becomes Me", and "At the Moment", All at Minnesota Artists; "At the Cardiologist's", "Death Inc.", and "Harrow", All for the What Light Poetry Project, at Minnesota Artists; "How to Listen" and "Just for the Record", Both at Joyce Sutphen Website; "Harrow", "Homesteading", "Into Thin Air", "Living in the Body", "My Brother's Hat", "The Problem Was", "To Take Her Home", and "What to Pack", Audio, All at The Knox Writer's House; "Seeing, Up Close Again" at Caffeine Destiny; "The Aunts" and "The Exam", Both at American Life in Poetry; "Living in the Body" at Yahoo! Voices; "At the Moment" at Altered Faces; "Secret Agent Man" at Bossy Betty; "Things You Didn't Put on Your Resume"; "The Book of Hours" and "November, 1967", Both at Your Daily Poem; "Silo Solo" at; "From Out the Cave"; "Apple Season" at Images for Renewal; "Guys Like That" at Poetry Dispatch; "As Time Always Does" at Alehouse Journal; "Bookmobile" at another eye opens; "Naming the Stars" at American Poems; "Ever After" (scroll to end); "The Aunts" at The Learning Network/Poetry Pairing, The New York Times; "From Out the Cave" at 37days blog; "The Nereids" at Whistling Shade; "Crossroads" and "Naming the Stars", Both at Best Poems Encyclopedia

Drew Kerr, "Joyce Sutphen: Minnesota's Poetry Promoter", Twin Cities Metro

"Minnesota's New Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen on 'Luxuriating in Language'", WTIP Radio Interview, September 23, 2011

"Minnesota's New Poet Laureate Ponders Next Move", StarTribune, August 26, 2011

Podcast with Joyce Sutphen at, KMSU, December 30, 2010

Joyce Sutphen on FaceBook

First Words Book Review at Verse Wisconsin Online

Straight Out of View Book Review at Eclectica


Ruth said...

Maureen, congratulations on your marvelous poem in today's Every Day Poems: Breaking it Off: Letter from Anne Sexton. I was captivated from the first line, and every line thereafter was full of leaps and falls that completely satisfied. Bravo!

Louise Gallagher said...

How odd. As I began to read your post, I remembered a dream I had last night about writing and reading poetry. I was taking a course and had to read a poem, but had to call into the class from my cell phone, even though I was there. I left the room to call, but it was long distance and the teacher had forgotten to give me her number -- and her phone wasn't turned on in class anyway....

LOL -- I like what Joyce Sutphen says about poetry -- I'm still writing a poem a day to C.C. and it continues to enrich my life and our relationships.


Lorna Cahall said...

Thanks for your great research.I have enjoyed so many poets through your blog. I have a growing collection of "Maureen's Poets" on my bookshelf.

S. Etole said...

Thanks for featuring this Minnesota poet! I've enjoyed what I have read here.

Anonymous said...

Maureen, that is a wonderful poem today in EDP.

i was thinking about rules lately, how there are just so so so very many of them...seems like more every day. i guess that odds are it would make it pretty hard to not break any. like the old bull walking through a china shop...with glass shelves.

i like " thing just leads to another." it really does.