Poetry walk celebrates local poets


Mohammed Islam

The Winona Fine Arts Commission is launching the Winona Poetry Walk on Oct. 31 outside of Blooming Grounds Coffeehouse downtown to commemorate local poets in Winona. To celebrate local poets, excerpts of poetry by local writers are stamped into the sidewalks.

Gabriel Hathaway, Editor-In-Chief

On Oct. 30 at 5:30 p.m., The Winona Fine Arts Commission in conjunction with the city of Winona will be throwing an event outside of Blooming Grounds Coffeehouse downtown to commemorate local poets in Winona. This event will be celebrating the launch of the Winona Poetry Walk.

The Winona Poetry Walk Launch event was designed to aesthetically and intellectually enrich the Winona community, while also celebrating local poets whose original poetry has recently been stamped into sidewalks downtown on Third, Fourth and Fifth Street. The poets who have had their poems featured on the sidewalks will also be doing live poetry reading outside of Blooming Grounds, located at 50 East Third Street, Winona.

According to Lee Gundersheimer, the Art and Culture coordinator for the Winona Fine Arts Commission, the idea of the Winona Poetry Walk came when two commissioners, Poet Laureate Ken McCullough and Mary Farrell, went to Northfield, Minnesota and saw that they had a poetry walk. This made them want to celebrate the local poets in Winona.

“There is a similar type of Poetry Walk in Saint Paul, and there’s an informal one in La Crosse as well,” Gundersheimer said.

Funding from the city, planning and selecting local poets to feature in the walk took about two years.

The font for the poems being engraved in the sidewalk was created by Winona State University students. The font was made by art and design majors from Danlio Bojic’s topography class by Ellen Klismith, Morgan Sumter, Elizabeth Pierce and Makenna Meyers.

Poets that applied to have their poem featured in the Poetry Walk had to be either Winona citizens or full-time students due to the event being funded by the city of Winona. There were nine total poets selected. The first four were previous Winona Poet Laureates: James Armstrong, Emilio DeGrazia, Ken McCullough and Nicholle Ramsey, along with Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen. The other four poets were Jerome Christenson, Chris Kendall, Lorraine Kilmartin and Steve Leonhardt.

James Armstrong is an English professor at Winona State who teaches beginning and advanced creative writing as well as a few poetry courses. Armstrong was Winona’s first Poet Laureate from 2007 to 2009. A Poet Laureate is a position appointed by the city of Winona. For this job, the elected Poet Laureate is supposed to advocate for the importance of poetry and the literary arts.

As Poet Laureate, Armstrong started the nationally recognized Shakespeare Sonnet Contest. This contest was done in collaboration with The Great River Shakespeare Festival.

“It’s great that [Winona is] celebrating poetry. Other cities have done this putting poetry into the sidewalk and so it’s a good gesture,” said Armstrong. “I think that was the whole point behind the Poet Laureateship and now it’s become, of course, the Art Laureate, so it’s more than just poetry but music and theater and everything.”

After Armstrong’s term as Poet Laureate, he elected not to run again. Armstrong said his reason for not running for reelection was because he thought it was very important for everybody to get involved. He said he was also very much in favor of opening up the position a bit from just Poet Laureate to Art Laureate because of this town’s very varied artistic talent.

On Oct. 30 outside of Booming Grounds, Armstrong will read an excerpt of his poem “Catechism” from his poetry book “Blue Lash” which is about Lake Superior. All the other poets will also be there (excluding Nicholle Ramsey because she currently resides in Alaska) reading their featured poems. Participants will be free to roam Third, Fourth and Fifth Street to view the poetry engraved in the sidewalks.

“This is a town that has gotten more and more interested in the arts and that is a very good thing,” said Armstrong. “It’s a good thing for the development of the city because it’s attractive to outsiders, so people that maybe want to move into the community, they see the arts are being celebrated.”

According to Armstrong, he has been writing poetry all his life and has also been very much interested in the arts. He has also been active in many things in the area to do with poetry along with promoting it as part of his job.

“It’s good for young people to have local arts. I mean we have such a wonderful array of things with the Shakespeare Festival, the Beethoven Festival, the wonderful art museum,” Armstrong said. “This town has really come a long way since I moved here 20 years ago, it has gotten a lot more involved in the arts and I think that is a good thing.”

According to Lee Gundersheimer there are plans to make annual additions to the Winona Poetry Walk, but right now it is only a question of funding. The walk depends on what the city allocates, organizational fundraising, individual donations and grants.

“[Those who want their poem in The Poetry Walk] should keep an eye and ear out at the Winona Fine Arts Commission website or Facebook page, The Winona Fine Arts Commission,” Gundersheimer
said. “The submissions will be sometime next year.”