Saturday, December 10, 2016

2016: The Year in Northfield Poetry

Sidewalk Poetry. In 2016, nine new poems were added to Northfield sidewalks as part of the Northfield Sidewalk Poetry project. Reconstruction of Woodley Street between Division and Prairie Streets provided nearly a mile and a half of new sidewalk for poetry. 41 poems were installed along Woodley Street. The 2016 winning poets were Barbara Belobaba, Becky Boling, Julia Braulick, Steve McCown, Orick Peterson, Anne Running Sovick, Lori Stoltz, and Richard Waters.

Poetry Out Loud. In March, Arcadia Charter School student Anna Kochever was one of the top six finalists in the 2016 Poetry Out Loud state championship, held at The Loft in Minneapolis. Poetry Out Loud is an annual poetry recitation competition for high school students, sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. More than a dozen Arcadia students participated in the local competition. 

Poem in Your Pocket Day. On April 21, during National Poetry Month, Northfield again celebrated Poem in Your Pocket Day. Boxes full of poems were available at local businesses, some of whom offered discounts for customers who shared a poem. In 2017, Poem in Your Pocket Day will be on Thursday, April 20.

TORCH Poetry Slam. The second annual TORCH Poetry Slam took place in December. This year’s winners were Chris Lazaro (third place), Delina Haileab (second place), and Alondra Perez Gonzalez (first place).

Poetry Nights at ContentContent Bookstore hosted nine Poetry Nights in 2016 (January-June, October-December). Poets featured were Susan Jaret McKinstry, Greg Hewett, Kaethe Schwehn, Leslie Schultz, Freya Manfred, Ken McCullough, and the winners of Arcadia’s Poetry Out Loud Competition and the 2015 TORCH Poetry Slam. The June 2016 Poetry Night was a bilingual reading of poems of Pablo Neruda.

New Books. Two Northfield poets published books of poetry in 2016: 
  • Leslie Schultz, Still Life with Poppies: Elegies (Aldrich Press)
  • Kaethe Schwehn, Tanka & Me: Poems (Brain Mill Press/Mineral Point Poetry Series)
Contest Winners. Two Northfield poets won contests in 2016:
Northfield Poet Laureate. In September, the Northfield Public Library selected Rob Hardy to serve a three-year term as Northfield’s first Poet Laureate. In November, the Northfield Public Library received a $9,600 grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC) to support the Poet Laureate program. Rob read poems in September at the annual Joseph Lee Heywood graveside service, the dedication of Wheeler Park, and the community celebration of the U.N. International Day of Peace. In November, he read a poem at the opening of a City Council meeting. He also worked with students in several classes at Northfield High School, hosted nine Poetry Nights at Content, and created and administered the Northfield Poet Laureate Facebook page.

The Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC) has provided a grant for this project thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund made possible by the voters of Minnesota.

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. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

New Publication: "Encounters in the Fairy Hill"

The Spring 2016 issue of The Bottle Imp, the online journal of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, is devoted to Naomi Mitchison. Included in the issue is my essay "Encounters in the Fairy Hill," exploring the connections between Mitchison's children's book The Fairy Who Couldn't Tell a Lie (1963) and her memoir of becoming an honorary member of the Bakgatla tribe in Botswana, Return to the Fairy Hill (1966). It's about imagination and encountering difference.

My two earlier essays on Mitchison—“Naomi Mitchison: Peaceable Transgressor" (New England Review) and "'Real and Not Real': Naomi Mitchison's Philosophy of the Historical Novel” (Readings)—were recently reprinted in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, vol. 327, edited by Lawrence J. Trudeau (Gage/Cengage Learning 2016). 

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Pioneer of Women's Rights: Phebe Sudlow, the First Female School Superintendent in the United States

In 1860, twenty-nine year old Phebe Sudlow had been teaching for twelve years—for most of that time in a one-room school schoolhouse in rural Scott County, Iowa—when she was appointed principal at Grammar School No. 2 in the city of Davenport.

When she found that the salary she had been offered was less than that of a male colleague in the same position, Sudlow she brought up the issue with the school board. At the time, lower salaries for women were justified on the grounds that female teachers—unmarried women who left teaching when they married—had only themselves, while male teachers had families to support. The school board refused to raise Sudlow’s pay, but she continued to press the issue.

In 1874, when she was chosen to become Davenport’s superintendent of schools, she again approached the school board and refused to accept the position unless her salary was equal to that of her male predecessor.

“Gentlemen,” she told the school board, “if you are cutting the salary because of my experience, I have nothing to say; but if you are doing this because I am a woman, I’ll have nothing more to do with it.

The school board agreed to Sudlow’s conditions, and she was hired as the first female superintendent of schools in the United States. Thanks to Sudlow’s efforts, the teachers’ contract in Davenport was changed to offer equal pay to men and women—decades before this became the standard practice elsewhere.

In an address given as the first female  president of the Iowa State Teachers Association in 1877, Sudlow said: "I cannot understand why equal attainment, equal culture, and equal strength of purpose and will should not have equal influence whether in man or woman."

The following year, she was hired as the first female professor at the University of Iowa. As one newspaper reported: "Every institution of this kind should have at least one lady in its faculty; and we know of no one more worthy to fill the place than Miss Sudlow."

(Photo from the Davenport School Museum)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

New Publication: "Bee Line: How the Honey Bee Defined the American Frontier"

My essay "Bee Line: How the Honey Bee Defined the American Frontier" has been published in the online journal Readings. The essay traces the spread of the honey bee, an introduced species, in advance of white settlement, and examines what bee hunting tells us about property rights on the frontier.

The essay looks at references to honey bees and bee hunting in 18th- and 19th-century travelers' accounts, as well as in 19th-century stories and novels by Caroline Kirkland, Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and others.

I started working on the essay in 2007, and abandoned it until late last year, when I rediscovered the fragmentary essay in a file on my computer and decided to complete it. This writing method is not uncommon with me.

Readings is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal that aims to publish scholarship accessible to a general audience. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Supermarket Shakespeare

a true story
by William Shakespeare

Scene: EconoFoods, night
Dramatis Personae: two teenage checkout girls, Rob

Girl #1: What yonder window!
Girl #2: What yonder window?
Girl #1: What yonder window!
Girl #2: What does that even mean? What yonder window?
Girl #1 (showing Girl #2 a piece of paper): That's how it goes. Look. What yonder window!
Girl #2: I think you must have copied it wrong.
Girl #1: No no no. That's how it goes. What yonder window!
Girl #2: But—
Girl #2 (finally noticing the person standing in her lane): Paper or plastic?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Beethoven in Detroit

Last weekend, I had a powerful urge to listen to Beethoven's Egmont Overture.

As often happens, because of my psychic connection to the classical radio station, it was played on the radio a few days later. 

It reminded me of my first encounter with the complete symphonies of Beethoven, in a 1978 PBS series which presented the nine symphonies in live performances by the Detroit Symphony, conducted by Antal Dorati. What I remember most vividly is the Egmont Overture playing over a scene of Dorati on a tugboat on the Detroit River. 

For Christmas that year, I got a recording of the complete symphonies (with the Egmont Overture as "filler") with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Sir Georg Solti. The Egmont always conjured up, at least in the back of my mind, that tugboat, the river, the skyline of Detroit. My memory is of that early nineteenth-century German music transposed into a late twentieth-century Midwestern industrial landscape. 

The Hungarian conductor Antal Dorati (1906-1988) studied in Budapest under both Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók, but as a conductor made his greatest impact in the United States, as music director first in Dallas (1945-1949), then in Minneapolis (1949-1960) and Detroit (1977-1981). Dorati made dozens of recordings, including many on the Mercury "Living Presence" label with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra). He and the Minneapolis Symphony were the first to record Tchaikovsky's "1812 Orchestra" with real cannons

The PBS program with Dorati and the DSO included the conductor being interviewed about Beethoven by the actor E.G. Marshall. According to his obituaries, and Wikipedia, E.G. Marshall was born in Owatonna, Minnesota, and attended Carleton College. But according to IMDB, "archivists at Carleton College say there is no record of his ever attending that institution." 

I did find a Washington Post review of the PBS series, which complains of "an element of provincialism in the production"—meaning, I think, that it's Midwestern. "Interviews with Dorati," says the reviewer, "are conducted at sites that show off the beauties of Detroit, however irrelevant they may be to Beethoven." The review ends by mentioning the scene of Dorati on the tugboat as one of these egregious "provincialisms." 

Interesting that I would remember that scene for almost 40 years, and think of it as the moment I fell in love with Beethoven's music. 

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .