Friday, October 21, 2016

Reading Recommendation: Lia Purpura, "All the Fierce Tethers" (New England Review 37.1)

I recommend this crystalline essay in the latest issue of the New England Review by my Oberlin classmate Lia Purpura:


Lia’s ability to find surprising connections, to blend intellect and imagination, and to draw her art into an engagement with the world, strike me as qualities Oberlin would have nurtured in her. She observes locally and thinks globally. She appreciates the magnificence of the minute. In her first book of poetry, The Brighter the Veil, there are poems about mosquitos, pennies, buttons. In my favorite, “Buttons,” she writes: “At night/each goes back/through its own darkness./Star after star is led out.” When I first read the poem in 1996, I was in the midst of stay-at-home fatherhood, preoccupied with small, domestic things that in Lia’s poems became large and luminous. In her essay, Lia writes that when she observes people “it’s exactly the boundedness of their lives, the precise sizing down that moves me.” I think of those lightly personified buttons. That was twenty years ago. What tiny marvels was she contemplating at Oberlin thirty years ago? I found several of Lia’s poems in a sepia-spined copy of The Plum Creek Review, Oberlin’s student literary journal, from Spring 1985. Already, at 20 or 21, she was writing poems that make you hold your breath and release it with an ah at the end. In one poem, “Finding Out a House,” she pauses to imagine “somewhere in the attic/a seed between floorboards.” There it is, the tiny detail that so many others would miss.

I didn’t really know Lia at Oberlin. She was an English major, which placed her at a level of sophistication far beyond my reach, then or now. (It amazes me that I have friends who are actual English professors.) She was also a creative writing major, and creative writing was the course in which I received my lowest grade at Oberlin. Diane Vreuls actually used the word “trash” about some of my writing. She was right. I was a good writer who needed to find the right things to write about. Lia was a fantastic writer whose eye and ear already seemed perfectly attuned. It astonishes me that, thirty years later, Lia and I have both appeared in the New England Review.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

International Day of Peace 2016: "Building Blocks"

Here's the poem I wrote and read for the student-organized International Day of Peace gathering in Bridge Square on Wednesday, September 21. It's dedicated to the young people of our community, who have so much to teach us about making a more peaceful world.

Building Blocks

“Establishing a lasting peace is the work of education.”
--Maria Montessori


Last night I woke to thunder.
Safe under my roof, I lay awake
listening as it rolled eastward,
followed by the peacefulness of rain.
In the morning, children bloomed
in bright colors on the bus corners,
teachers in still classrooms waited
for the calm to shatter into life.
There in the bustle and the noise
were the beginnings of peace.
Elsewhere, bombs fall and scatter
fear, like shrapnel edging
closer to our hearts. If all we carry
from the rubble is our hate,
then this is what we build. We close
the borders of ourselves. But last night
I heard a young Assyrian woman,
whose father’s village had been bombed,
whose people had suffered
from centuries of genocide and war,
talk about Montessori school,
where she learned that we
must be the building blocks of peace.
Montessori had such a simple idea:
teach our children to make peace,
and let them show us how it’s done.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Acting Cashier

Today, one hundred an forty years to the day after the bank raid, people of Northfield gathered to honor Joseph Lee Heywood, the acting cashier of the bank on the day the James-Younger Gang rode into town, who was murdered for refusing to open the safe and hand over the money deposited there. The speakers at today's graveside service in Northfield Cemetery were Pastor Duane Everson, Mayor Dana Graham, David Mucha (vice-president of the Northfield Historical Society), Fred Rogers (treasurer, Carleton College), and Rob Hardy (Northfield Poet Laureate). I concluded the program with a reading of this poem I wrote for the occasion.

The Acting Cashier

One hundred forty years ago, he was deposited in this ground
like a bond that bears its interest once a year.
As if a time-lock had opened, the street in front of the bank
fills with the citizens of 1876. At scheduled times,
unreconstructed outlaws spur their horses into town,
shots are fired, and Joseph Lee Heywood lives
his last moments for the crowd. At night, carnival lights
illuminate the town. But before the crowds have gathered,
here in this quieter place, we remember an ordinary man—
a man who worked and prayed with other ordinary people,
who in his ordinariness might never have been known
if a single moment hadn’t cast him as a hero. We cannot all
be heroes, but we can all be so remarkably ordinary—
so humble, so generous in giving of ourselves, so steadfast
in our refusal to stand aside for what we know is wrong.
Who was this man who lies in the vaulted earth beneath our feet?
We can only know him by knowing each other.
The faithfulness of his life cannot be reenacted,
it can only be lived. This is the dividend he pays:
his life, divided among all of us, to be lived together.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Why Am I Running for Re-Election to the School Board?

There is a stock answer to this question available to any one of the four incumbent members of the school board seeking re-election this year. I have the knowledge and experience to address the challenges facing our school district in the next four years, and to follow through on district-wide initiatives—such as the master facilities plan and the new strategic plan—already in progress. I have four years of experience as a school board member; Fritz Bogott has six months, Ellen Iverson has eight years, Noel Stratmoen has more than thirty years. There's a good case to be made for sticking with experience.

On the other hand, there’s a benefit to be gained from a fresh perspective—the perspective of someone who’s been an outsider to the process. When I joined the school board in January 2013, the board was preparing to make a decision on the implementation the one-to-one iPad initiative (otherwise known as Transformational Technology). I was the only new member of the board, and the only board member to vote against implementation of the program. Although my lone dissenting vote couldn’t stop the iPad implementation, it allowed me to be a voice for those—teachers, parents, and students—who continued to have questions and reservations about the program.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Poet Laureate

I'm extremely honored to have been chosen as Northfield, Minnesota's first Poet Laureate. You can read more about the appointment in the Northfield News

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hero Now Theatre's Production of "Oresteia" (adapted by Rob Hardy from the original by Aeschylus)

Aeschylus’s Oresteia, originally performed in 458 BCE, is the only surviving dramatic trilogy from classical Athens. The trilogy takes audiences to ancient Argos, on the eve of Agamemnon’s bloody homecoming from the Trojan War, and ends in Athens, where the mythical cycle of violence is resolved with the establishment of a homicide court on the rock of the Areopagus.

In 2012, I adapted Aeschylus’s trilogy as a single 90-minute play that keeps the mythical framework of the original but updates it for modern audiences. The adaptation was first presented by the Carleton Players, directed by Ruth Weiner, in May 2012. It was the final production of the inaugural season of Carleton’s Weitz Center for Creativity Theater. You can read a review of that production here

Next month—September 9-11 and 15-18, 2016—the adaptation will be given a new production by Hero Now Theatre in Minneapolis, directed by Kristin Halsey. Hero Now presents plays in “found spaces,” and for the Oresteia has found an evocative sculpture garden in Northeast Minneapolis to stand in for ancient Argos and Athens.

Tickets are available for $25 through Brown Paper Tickets. All performances are at 7:30 pm.


For more information, check out the Hero Now Theatre website.

Zoran Mojsilov's sculpture garden in Northeast Minneapolis: the "found" set for Hero Now Theatre's Oresteia.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

New Publication: "'Deceit only was forbidden': A Brief Literary Biography of Richard Henry Wilde"

If you want a distraction from current politics, you can read my long essay in the summer issue of the New England Review. It's about Richard Henry Wilde (1789-1847), a nineteenth-century Congressman and poet who opposed Andrew Jackson's monetary policy and lost his bid for reelection amid accusations of plagiarism. It's a story about deception, hypocrisy, poetry, slavery, and the power of gold.