Four professors, alumni host poetry reading

Allison Mueller

Elizabeth Pulanco / Winonan

Tucked within the bookshelves on the second floor of the Darrell W. Kruger Library, friends, faculty and poetry lovers joined Zach Carlsen, James Armstrong, Marcia Ratliff and Sam Hovda for a reading of their original poetry. The reading, which took place on Feb. 3, was made possible by a grant from the South Eastern Minnesota Arts Council.

Each poet at the reading had a unique connection to Winona State University. Ratliff and Hovda are Winona State graduates, while Armstrong and Carlsen have been colleagues in the English department. According to Armstrong, Carlsen was the driving force behind the reading.

“It was Zach’s idea to bring us all together,” Armstrong said. “The poems are related by our connection to each other.”

Armstrong, a professor in the English department, has been writing poetry his whole life, and often finds himself drawn to poems about wildlife.

“I started writing poems in third grade and as a child, I won a contest for writing a poem about an owl,” Armstrong said.

During the reading, Armstrong was the last poet to read his work. Evidence of his lasting interest about the natural world could be heard when he read poems about Niagara Falls, and about the horses he sees in the pastures of Wisconsin while he drives home from work.

After reading his nature-based poetry, Armstrong started to read poems inspired by his experiences of re-teaching himself cursive. Armstrong collaborated with Carlsen while writing this penmanship poem.

Carlsen, a former co-worker of Armstrong’s and a blogger living in the Twin Cities, read his work prior to Armstrong. Carlsen read a poem inspired by communities of people around mineral extraction sites and how these communities dissolve after the minerals are harvested. Each poem related to the subject helped to create the sense of a temporary community and illustrated the migrant lives this group of people had lived.

Ratliff read her poems before Carlsen read his. Like Armstrong, Ratliff, a reporter for the Winona Daily News, enjoys writing poems about nature. Ratliff displayed this love of nature by reading a poem she wrote about her experiences on Lake Superior with her mother. Ratliff also read a poem describing a night with her husband as they cooked dinner together. With each descriptor of the pasta and shrimp they were making, Ratliff turned a regular dinner into something extraordinary.

Ratliff also read a poem she had been working on with the help of the other people involved with this reading, including Hovda.

Hovda started off the night of poetry readings with emotional poems dealing with gender expression and relationships. Hovda also read a poem about walking around in Paris and the vivid descriptions of the city helped the audience visualize the location being described.

On a more humorous note, Hovda read a piece about being a Minnesotan in Los Angeles, and how much of a contrast there is between the two locations. Hovda’s point of reference for this poem was attending a Los Angeles wedding as a person from Minnesota.

Hovda had some friends in the crowd, and one of his friends, senior Brittney Bluhm, thought it was neat to see this side of him.

“It was interesting to hear Sam talk about being a Minnesotan in L.A., because he made me think about traveling and what I want to do after college,” Bluhm said. “I will still bring my values I developed while in Minnesota wherever I go.”

This reading was unique in the fact that the poems being read had no singular connection or theme besides the people reading them. This lead to multiple types of poems being read, which senior Cassandra Pearson found enjoyable.

“I really liked the variety of poets,” Pearson said. “I could still identify with all of them no matter what they talked about.”

The variety of poets in this reading is what Armstrong found captivating as well.

“It is interesting, because I am a poet who has established myself in my career, Zach is just starting to establish himself and Marcia and Sam are recently ending their undergraduate careers and developing their poems,” Armstrong said. “You’re seeing three different stages of poetic development.”

By looking at the different stages of poetic development, Winona State is expanding its poetry community. With the expansion of this community, the university will continue to graduate creative poets and writers while nurturing the talents of  aspiring poets.