A Fan Letter on Minnesota Writers
The Corresponder

Spring 2000

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In this Issue

Book Reviews

The Resurrection Machine  by Steve Gehrke
Reviewed by Aaron L. Rudolph

Prosecutors Will Be Violated  by Archibald Spencer
Reviewed by J.A. Beyer

An Alchemy in the Bones by William Reichard
Reviewed by Mike Bezdicek

Strong to the Hoop by John Coy
Reviewed by Lori Buoen

More Ghostly Tales From Minnesota by Ruth D. Hein
Reviewed by Beth Luwandi Nelson

The Jesse James Northfield Raid: Confessions of the Ninth Man by John Koblas
Reviewed by Alrick Knight
Like the Air by Joyce Sidman
Reviewed by Jennifer Fandel
Harvest: Collected Poems & Prayers by Ruth F. Brin
Reviewed by Diana Jensen-Cramer

Robert C. Wright Award Winner

Blake Hoena
High School Sweethearts Kiss after Ten Years of Marriage

Good Thunder Reading Series Events 2000 - 2001

News from the Minnesota Humanities Commission:

Minnesota Book Award Winners

News and Notes

Corresponder Editor

Book Reviews

The Resurrection Machine 
Steve Gehrke
BkMk Press, April 2000  Price (Paperback) $11.95
Reviewed by Aaron L. Rudolph

Often the poet seeks to challenge a reader while still writing entertaining, engaging poems.  The reader, in turn, learns to look for more than the obvious from the poet.  This type of challenge is evident in Steve Gehrke's first book of poems, The Resurrection Machine, winner of the first John Ciardi Poetry Prize awarded by BkMk Press.

In his debut collection, Gehrke, a graduate of English at Minnesota State University, Mankato, introduces a handful of possibilities, and then guides the reader along as he works these possibilities out.  There are poems here that speak of a place, both physical and imagined.  The poet shares images of cornfields and isolated farm locales, but there are also images of people who are lonely, confused, and acting under unfortunate circumstances.  This collection covers a lot of ground, but it does so effortlessly, as each poem leads into the next.

In the collection’s first poem, “Non-Verbal Autistic Man,” the poet deals with one man and his daily struggle.  Gehrke writes: “A hundred times a day he walks that loop, / tracing the same grooves.”  The poem creates a man following a pattern of routine, isolated in his own world: “His feet echo/ that single note his mind is stuck on.”  These lines portray a man relying on the familiar in order to do simple tasks, and to survive.  The poem captures this struggle through direct, minimal phrasing:  “Arrows in the carpet mark what his feet know/ from the kitchen to the bedroom window.”

Other poems in the collection also deal with the individual, but with a closer focus.  Poems in the second section deal with people’s loss and acceptance of new body parts.  Three very different people deal with the anticipation of receiving new hearts in “Heart Transplants.”  In the first stanza, Gehrke writes:

 Tonight I’m thinking of the men
 who trade in their hearts,
of the lonely woman with a man heart,
 the Jew with a Muslim heart,
 and the man who said to his wife
 on the morning of surgery, “I don’t know
 if I will love you when I wake up.”

In this first stanza, three situations are created and the theme of the poem reveals itself through these situations: “The man still loves his wife, / though he takes down/ all the mirrors in the house./ The Jew still fears Allah.”  With new organs, these people are still the same people, yet altered enough to allow fear to change their lives.  The poem shows this message through accessible language that still retains a rhythm and music in each line.

“My Grandmother’s False Teeth,” a poem in the same section, takes an ordinary subject, false teeth, and creates a whole array of possibilities through a child’s amazement.  A child is astonished: “It was a miracle of separation…/ …/ I looked/ to her face, waiting for her to unscrew/ a finger, an eye to pirouette from its socket.”  Once again, through simple language, Gehrke provides the reader with a wondrous perspective.  He lets his original imagery carry the poem, guiding the reader through the poem with clear, visual impressions.

 “Crows, Frozen in the Snow” is one of several poems that portray a different theme in The Resurrection Machine.  These poems speak of the Midwest, its land, and the harshness of its seasons and weather.  “Crows” presents a landscape: “Look at the muscular stones, / the bully clouds, a willow, drunk on storm, and applaud / when the wind is open. When it’s closed.”
 Gehrke shows the cruelty of Midwestern winter through dark images, using a metaphor of strength to label landscape.  The elements are muscular, bullish and drunk, plating off these characteristics of the crows and also of the people inhabiting the land.   The Midwest plays an even larger role in this collection.  Gehrke, a native of Mankato, Minnesota, uses his home region, of example, as a muse in “A Map of Six States.”  The poem serves as a type of road map, presenting six states: Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  Of Minnesota he writes: “Its little chimney punching/ into Canada sky, this house/ of water, frozen now.”  These first lines present a summary of the speaker’s feeling of the geographical place.  Describing Illinois, the speaker addresses one person, presumably his companion on the journey, and says: “It’s the muted voices/ that rattle the breath from us/ …/ when you say, I don’t want/ to end up like my mother.”   The poem journals a trip from Minnesota to Pennsylvania, and in Pennsylvania domesticity and comfort wait as noted in the last stanza: “In Lewisburg, you cook dinner/ alone…/…/ heavy knife signaling on the cutting board:/ now now now now.”

The Resurrection Machine is a collection fueled by obsession, the poet’s obsession.  These poems are always questioning and always seeking answers; this book is Steve’s Gehrke’s forum for answering those questions.  Some poems find an answer and some continue to search even after the last line, but regardless, Gehrke’s voice resounds loudly and clearly, and full of power.

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Prosecutors Will Be Violated
Archibald Spencer
Trigance Press, June 1999  Price (Hardcover) $23.00
Reviewed by J.A.Beyer

The novel Prosecutors Will Be Violated is touted as a satire, a lampoon of our criminal justice system, and well it should.  From the opening pages to the final case, the bibliophile is taken on a journey through the inefficiencies of American justice.  Author Archibald Spencer, a corporate attorney, as opposed to a criminal attorney, chronicles the antics and tactics of Ashley Blackwood, a successful California attorney.

What we as readers are confronted with is a series of unrelated criminal cases that result in a new axiom derived from each case.  For example, the first maxim was the result of a simple traffic case.  During a thorough character assassination of the sole witness for the prosecution, the arresting officer, Ashley coined the rule, "Stop At Nothing To Demolish Hostile Witnesses."  As a career practitioner in the criminal justice system, who has worked as a police officer, a correctional officer, a parole officer, and later, a college professor of law enforcement, I applaud this work of Archibald Spencer.  As a practitioner, I was distraught by the tactics used by defense attorneys to get criminals acquitted or how prosecutors would negotiate a plea and let an offender escape with a slap on the wrist.  What Spencer does is present the process by which justice is administered in the United States in a humorous manner.

We often hear of offenders escaping punishment by virtue of a technicality.  Is it wrong to release an offender if the state errs?  I think not.  The state has virtually unlimited resources that can be brought to bear on the accused.  If the police illegally seize evidence, it should be excluded; if the police perjure themselves to obtain warrants, the evidence should be excluded.  If prosecuting attorneys are inept, the case will not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and the accused should be released.  The function of the defense attorney is to erect obstacles to the state prosecution, and force the state to prove each and every element of the offense. This is exactly what Spencer’s Ashley Blackwood does.  In an entertaining anthology of hypothetical cases, Spencer has Blackwood creating that reasonable doubt.

Now, lest I be accused of advocating the pampering of criminals, let me suggest an alternative hypothesis, and one that I believe Spencer would agree with. It is not that I, or Spencer, or even Ashley Blackwood wants the offenders to go unpunished. What is desired is for the State to prove the case against the defendant.  If the defense attorney has a reputation for mounting an aggressive defense, the prosecution will prepare a stronger case, resulting in more convictions with fewer innocent people being sent to prison. Further, I do not believe that Spencer wishes to see offenders released on appeal.  By forcing the prosecution to prepare a case that will withstand appellate review, the offender does not escape punishment.

What we have in Spencer's humorous treatise, Prosecutors Will Be Violated, is a manual or a guide for all law enforcement officers, attorneys, and law and order advocates. By exposing the present shortcomings of the American justice system, Spencer has invoked the final maxim of Ashley Blackwood, "When It's Hopeless, Attack Their Strongest Point."

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An Alchemy in the Bones
William Reichard
New Rivers Press, May 1999  Price (Paperback) $13.95
Reviewed by Mike Bezdicek

William Reichard’s first book of poetry, An Alchemy in the Bones, is a collection of expressive poems that connect the speaker to the observed world with language that is tender, but at the same time, honest and harsh. These speaker-dominated poems often search for human understanding through what the speaker observes; therefore, Reichard’s poems often shift from the external and internal worlds, while trying to connect and understand the two.

In the poem “Bonsai,” the speaker sees humanity in the pruning of a Bonsai tree. The poem begins with a physical description of the tree and then shifts to connect to the speaker’s thoughts.

And we have constructed ourselves in this same manner,
trimming back families and familiars to base essentials,

pruning back all that we’ve come from to all that we desire.
We have constructed our lives along the lines of the reductive,

waiting after every stinging cut to see if we can live
without that particular branch, that puny limb.

In “Slow Meditation,” the same approach is used. The speaker paints an effective picture of dying seals, then shifts the poem internally to understand their death: “On the bluff above, a vulture sat and waited for me/ to leave and I wondered: Is life based on such economy?/ Living and dying, feasting and starving?”

These questions are not the only struggles faced by the speakers of An Alchemy in the Bones. Many of Reichard’s poems express the internal struggle of his rural roots. And many times, the speaker’s mother serves as a vehicle for this struggle. In “Chromatism: Brown,” the speaker shows the emptiness of places he once knew well: “In November, everything is browned down/ to one infinite shade. It’s the cloudiest month. I sit at the window in my mother’s house/ and look out at the street I grew up on. A brown car passes. Someone has cut down/ some trees I remember.” And in “There Be Monsters Here,” the speaker returns home to feel lost in that same familiar place: “The horizon sweeps up from the gravel, vanishes/ in the cloud of a passing pickup. So much dust to navigate/ in the quiet countryside, so few farms like continents adrift in a sea/ of wheat and corn. I call out ahead Hello! And wait for a reply.”

Not all of Reichard’s speakers seek to find harmony. Although still observational, Reichard describes his speaker’s lovers through a variety of moods. In the tender poem “Sleep’” the speaker observes his sleeping lover: “And always after he drifts to sleep, / I count the minutes out/ on my curled hands and wait, / contended, but do not find rest.” The same tenderness is apparent in “A Measure,” where a lover is missed:

 When I wake with you

or when I wake away from you
I still say I love you to your pillow,
to the dawn, to some part of the new day.

And as these poems are tender, “It Takes Me” is harsh and honest. Frustrated with a lover from the past, the speaker writes to remember and about things that will spark memory: “from behind like a cow mounted I whine and the wood’s crisp edge/ pressed a deep crease in the skin of my stomach.”

Although most poems operate on shifts in the style of the narrative, there are poems like “He Will Not Eat Rice,” where there is only clear descriptive language: “biting down into the pieces of/ rotting raw chicken, all of the maggots/ like so many grains of writhing rice.”

The majority of the poems in An Alchemy in the Bones rely on the speaker to draw connections between the internal and the external worlds. Reichard depends on the eyes of his speakers to deliver the message, and with affective language, is able to bridge the gap between what is seen and what is felt, thereby making his poetry not only very expressive but also honest.

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Strong To The Hoop
John Coy
Illustration by Leslie Jean-Bart
Lee & Low Books, May 1999   Price (Hardcover) $16.95
Reviewed by L.A. Buoen

The story of John Coy (a native of Minnesota) and Leslie Jean-Bart’s illustrations merge to form a perfect amalgamation. This children’s story, set on a basketball court in the inner city, could be viewed as a metaphor for life told through the eyes of children.  In this story we have passion, truth, and a reality that are realized and revealed on a basketball court. Strong to the Hoop is an appealing book with an authentic feel and universal theme. For every kid who struggles to fit in and for every kid who wants to prove that s/he is valuable, this is a fun and triumphant story to read.

The striking art in this book, by itself, could almost tell the whole story. The collage of photographs are creatively integrated through chalky white lines, roughly drawn across dark background images which animate the drama of each page. The occasional change of color and size of textured font gives a few selected words within a paragraph an unusual emphasis, creating a kind of offbeat pattern. This wonderfully written story, which is in perfect balance with the illustration, color and text, really gives us, the readers, some insight into a slice of urban culture.

The faces of mostly African-American boys fill each page; earthy tones and brick buildings set the urban mood. Through colorful narration and dialogue this world comes alive, and we learn the inner hopes and dreams of one young boy.  The play-by-play thoughts and perceptions come through in a style that feels both hip and realistic of many inner city youths today.

In this story, ten year-old James has to face up to big guys with big attitudes to make his dream of playing basketball with the older guys a reality. James, by pure luck, gets his chance. He thinks he is ready; mentally, he is confidant. Physically, he is strong and talented. Until now he had no doubts, only something to prove. And he is a boy most determined and ready to take his best shot.

James accompanies his older teenage brother, Nate, to the outdoor basketball court where the older teenage guys are waiting, then stands alone on the sidelines to watch them play basketball - a daily ritual likely played out in cities across America. The wearing or not wearing of T-shirts distinguishes the two teams; each team is then referred to as “skins” and “shirts,” respectively. James shoots hoops alone as he watches the guys play, dreaming of the day he will be big enough to play with them.

The pace quickly picks up when one player takes a spill and the “skins” are in need of a new player.  Luke, the injured player, calls for James to take his place on the team. There is dispute over whether or not James is big enough to play, but it is quickly resolved.  James removes his T-shirt and becomes, suddenly, conscious of how skinny he looks in comparison to everyone else there, especially Marcus, who is the biggest and most aggressive of all the players. Marcus is on the “shirts” team. As they play, the tension builds. A small crowd begins to accumulate courtside to watch the game, where excitement increases to a climax with James the victor all the way round.

The writing style throughout the story flows with active descriptions and tight dialogue right to the triumphant conclusion.  Every word, description, and thought of young James is projected onto the page with simplicity. It is a positive, interesting story that will appeal to everyone, whether they play basketball or not, as it shares what it is like being a kid growing up in today’s world. It’s a story about one of the turning points in a person’s life that is never forgotten - it’s about getting your moment in the sun just when you’re at your very best.

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More Ghostly Tales From Minnesota
Ruth D. Hein
North Star Press of St.Cloud 1999  Price (Hardcover) $9.95
Reviewed by Luwandi Nelson

We can all remember the dark autumn night with a campfire blazing, the shadow of tree branches gnarling their grasp, and a slight breeze nipping into a whir through the pines. For most of us, out-doing one another with the most convincing ghost stories turned into a rite of passage. After the shaky or adamant “No way!” the teller usually countered with something like, “Oh yeah? Well, my cousin, Freda, actually saw it!” This, of course, meant it had to be true, cousins being what they were - dear kin and as trustworthy as a brother or sister we could brag on now and quarrel with later.

Ruth D. Hein might pass for kin, and, true to form, in her fifth compilation of “hauntings and strange happenings” she lets us relive those childhood experiences with a truly Scandinavian flavor for storytelling. If you’ve been hardened by the glare of techno-hauntings and the likes of “Jason” or the “Blair Witch,” don’t expect the same scare per page from More Ghostly Tales From Minnesota. Written with stoic suspense, a grammarian’s form, and a lack of explicit horror, the book is a quick read, suitably placed on the coffee table. But the chill is still present in these decidedly local stories of ghostly hauntings, some friendly, some spiritual in nature, some barely more than coincidence. The effect of Hein’s phlegmatic style is that one comes to believe she is not making these things up. These happenings have been reasonably told to her and she is truthfully reporting them without so much cinematic hoo-ha. Still not bedtime story fare for the youngins, the interest for the reader of these stories lies in their local import.

Set in familiar communities such as LeSueur, Ottawa, St. Peter, Willmar, Worthington, Luverne, Granite Falls, and St. Cloud, along with the general locales of Stearns, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Brown, and Rock Counties, as well as in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, these tales span the usual range of strange reports including inexplicable creaking floors, footstep thuds retreating and returning, and the sensation of touch, both chilling and comforting. Apparitions continue the activity they performed in life whether at an abandoned school or a once-thriving town theatre. The untimely death of children produces young ghosts and the inexplicable sounds of a baby crying through the night. There are numerous reports of items moved about or lost and later found, either in an oft-examined place or set out neatly for all to see. Timely “knowings” and audible cries of distress signal tragedy despite great distance. Some of the ghosts follow their hosts from house to house and even out of state. One friendly favorite is Samantha, affectionately called “Sam.” This presence soothes the teenage girls she haunts, takes the blame for household mishaps, and eventually moves out of state with the most receptive girl after the girl has finished college and marries. Reportedly, Sam continues to appear to the next generation of the family.

And, of course, dead relatives return to communicate with loved ones. A new widow returns home from the funeral with her son to find the ghost of her just-dead husband visible. After screaming, she calls out to her son, “her voice tremb[ling], ‘Well…looks like…your father…beat us home. He’s standing in the front room.” In the case of one blizzard victim, his ghost returns home to report through a door the whereabouts of his remains, a gesture interpreted as lovingly saving his widow from long uncertainty.

The history these stories allude to is as powerful as the intrigue they mean to induce. And that’s no surprise since Hein writes the historical column in The Worthington Daily Globe. What remains thought provoking after reading are the things not written, the history merely mentioned. What about the runaway slave this far north? What more regarding the haunting by the Sioux?
No doubt, readers will be tempted to add a story or two to the mix, which could account for this being the fifth volume of this kind that Hein has produced. If taken for what it is, and nothing more sophisticated, More Ghostly Tales remains interesting, sometimes amusing, sometimes eerie, and always polite. Readers can easily add a tale or stretch these reports, enhancing their stories with campfire light, the inflection of dramatic voice, and a flourish of rich, horrific detail. And if listeners are unconvinced, Hein will serve nicely as corroborative kin.

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The Jesse james Northfield Raid: Confessions of the Ninth Man 
Ruth F. Brin
Holy Cow!  Press,April 1999  Price (Paperback) $16.95
Reviewed by Alrick Knight

On September 7, 1876, nine members of the Younger-James gang rode through the dusty streets of Northfield, Minnesota, and robbed the First National Bank. Two of the bandits would not leave the town alive. But how many members actually comprised the group whose holdup constituted one of the last robberies the James and Younger brothers would attempt? Armed with new insight based on the account of Bill Stiles, as well as seemingly endless archival information, John Koblas’ The Jesse James Northfield Raid: Confessions of the Ninth Man gives one of Minnesota’s most infamous bank robberies a facelift. In it, Koblas traces the paths of the outlaws, beginning with their respective arrivals to Minnesota, moving on to their preparation, robbery and escape, and, finally showing the ways in which their lives were affected by their actions in Northfield.

Koblas does not presume to offer the definite conclusion as to whether Bill Stiles actually acted as lookout man on the outskirts of town that Thursday afternoon. His purpose, rather, is to bring order to the obscured and varied accounts that have served only to muddy our understanding of exactly what occurred in the course of the bank robbery.

Koblas’ strongest argument for Stiles’ involvement in the Northfield robbery is based on various bits of information gathered from countless newspaper articles, books, magazines and personal correspondences. Although not everyone is convinced of the ninth-man theory, few disagree that two of the bandits - Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell, alias Bill Stiles - were gunned down during the robbery attempt. Stiles’ father was consequently called upon to identify his son’s body and, upon viewing the bodies, the elder Stiles assured the police that neither corpse was his son’s. This bit of information represents, in Koblas’ opinion, the most convincing evidence supporting Stiles’ claim that he and Chadwell were two different members of the James-Younger gang. In addition, years after the raid, the man professing to be Stiles stated he had recently converted to Christianity, and the entire Union Gospel Mission of California provided sworn affidavits testifying to the ex-outlaw’s credibility and integrity. Furthermore, Emmett Dalton, one of Stiles’ bitter rivals, swore that the latter had indeed been present at the Northfield raid. And finally, Stiles was a well-known outlaw whose association with the James on previous robberies is well documented.

 Koblas’ book has the unique quality of weaving new findings into an already extensively researched area, all in a captivating manner. Although the myriad accounts and perspectives Koblas offers may at times be overwhelming to the reader who is unversed in Midwestern history, the overall effect of The Jesse James Northfield Raid: Confessions of the Ninth Man is pleasing, providing the intrinsic appeal of a Western novel.

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Like the Air
Joyce Sidman
Finishing Line Press, April 1999  Price (Hardcover) $23.00
Reviewed by Jennifer Fandel

The voice in Joyce Sidman’s collection of poems, Like The Air, is quiet yet urgent, softly grabbing her audience by the collar and demanding our contemplation of the simple world around us, the world so easy to overlook. Even though Sidman’s poetry is firmly rooted in her world of family, home, and nature, these are not poems of testimony or triumph over the unknown; rather, Sidman asks her readers, just as she asks herself, to consider the depth of possibility that lies just below the surface. Typically borne out of images and scenes, Sidman’s poems take on large ideas, such as gravity, permanence, and our brief lives.

Beginning her collection with the short poem “Bluebird,” Sidman examines her reach for the ideal, even if it may not be entirely realistic or true.

“There is no true blue in the natural world,”
an expert once told me,
“it’s all oil and light.”
The same could be said of joy
but I would still want it,
would still wish to swim
like the bluebird
through the bright oil of grace
into the upper edges of light.

This poem, like many others, reflects Sidman’s love of nature and a yearning to understand, if not become a part of it. Starting with a specific image, the poet carries our thoughts out into the realm of idea and the unknown. The images closely focus on her place within the natural world.

In a similar vein, the poem “Lichen, Bar Harbor” explores the struggle between desiring the seemingly permanent world of stones and the momentary world that is as fleeting as flowers in a harsh climate. Wrangling with her urge to be nature, to be both the stones and flowers, Sidman comes to realize that there are no easy solutions to help quell that feeling. It is then that she directly involves the readers in her troubles. Using a technique that appears often in her work, Sidman familiarly addresses us, the readers, in the second person and takes us in with questions:

Admit it,
you, reading this,
are just the same.
So. What shall we do?
How shall we ever choose?

The words “simple complexity” describe the essence of Sidman’s poetry. Her language is carefully chosen so that the poem chimes with a meaning that seems quiet and simple at the surface, but echoes louder as you read deeper. Not only is the language beautiful to hear, but the images ring deep into the sensory world, often challenging the conventions of sight-based imagery and taking us much deeper into the tactile. Sidman’s touch-centered imagery is especially prevalent in the poem “Things To Do Without Eyes.” Daring us to challenge ourselves to think and see differently, the poet instructs us to wake up in our lives and stop taking advantage of our eyes to instead begin feeling, taking in the weather, love, and fear through touch.

Many of the finest lines in Sidman’s poetry also contain some of her most memorable images. Her use of alliteration and assonance charge her poems with sound. In the line “faint tang of fermentation,” our mouths taste that tang and the feeling reverberates throughout the line. Many of Sidman’s striking lines are structured similarly, seen in the following:  “raising a hot foam of gnats,” “the cool wipe of dew,” and “the see-saw of throbbing cardinal, /the big windy arms of the sky.” These lines are examples of beautiful language, but their power rests in Sidman’s tactile knowledge and her eye for the active image. We can feel the words hot, foam, cool, wipe, throbbing, and windy. Many of these words, such as foam, throbbing, wipe, and windy, also carry connotations of activity. These active images serve to engage us further in this world Sidman presents.

Sidman also excels at breathing life into inanimate objects and animals, envying and admiring the emotions she finds intrinsically stored in objects. The following excerpt from “My Only Life” shows the world from a mayfly’s point of view.

and I, the mayfly

perched on the edge
of the world, knitting

with eyelash legs
the uneven shards of time

into this day -
this single, shining day

that is my only life.

Because mayflies are only alive for one day, the poet imagines that their lives must be swift and brilliant. Mirroring the sentiments expressed in “Things To Do Without Eyes,” Sidman emphasizes, through the image of the mayfly, her belief that we must wake up a little more in our own lives.

Sidman makes her readers feel her wonder and transports us through beautiful writing and careful detail, moving more intimately inside the speaker from the scene that she involves us in. “Farewells by the Door in Winter” takes us into one of these meditations. As the speaker stands in the moment immediately following her good-byes, caught between the cold outside and the inside warmth, we are presented with her intense ponderings.

bound by daily custom,
lift, suddenly free:

What does it mean, this
dark swallowing,
this cold glittering,
this swaddling warmth?
What are we?
            And why,

Winning the 1999 New Women’s Voices Prize in Poetry with this first book of poems, Sidman has added an important voice to the body of contemporary poetry. The poet grapples with her complex vision of the world in such simple language that her readers cannot help but feel invited to read further and breathe in those big questions with few answers.

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Harvest:Collected Poems & Prayers
Ruth F. Brin
Holy Cow!  Press,April 1999  Price (Paperback) $16.95
Reviewed by Diana Jensen-Cramer

Looking at Harvest: Collected Poems and Prayers by Ruth F. Brin is to look through a window on Jewish religion, ritual life, and see it in beauty, in complexity, and often, in incomprehensibility. The subtitle requires attention; assuming separate sections for “prayers” and “poems” would be a misreading. In Brin’s work, prayer and poem are one and the same. This is true on several levels.

The primary purpose of Brin’s work is to provide poems as readings, or re-readings, of the Torah and other texts. She reworks the ancient material to make their reading meaningful to the modern seeker. This is not merely a philosophical exercise; it is rooted in her experience as a Jewish woman living Torah, not merely recalling it.

A jaded reader, the artiste looking for startling poetic innovation, may look at Brin’s work and be distressed at the traditional themes and imagery, the repetitiveness of form and line. But her work ought to strike us as familiar; Brin is liturgical in a deep sense. Like the psalms, these poems are meant to be read communally, reflected upon communally. To read the poems and not pray them is to miss their spirit.

Moreover, her work is steeped with Torah as the love of doing God’s law, and a deep recognition that doing social justice is the coming of the Messiah. In one of her most startling poems, she portrays Elijah as having the job of comforting a weeping Messiah who is locked in our human hearts. Certain themes, such as the remembrance of Hiroshima and Auschwitz, run like refrains through the work. Throughout these prayers/poems, human responsibility is called forth.

Even among those works that are simply poems, the sense of prayer and mystic reflection is not entirely lost. Although the medium of human love is reflected upon, especially in husband, son, daughter, and friend, Nature is the predominant source of imagery.

However, Nature transcends the mere metaphorical use of leaves and trees. The worlds revealed by astronomy and nuclear physics are also signs of the Creator; sometimes glorifying, sometimes terrifying. Brin is deeply aware of the problem that our prying knowledge of the atom causes and exhorts the reader to mingle knowledge with justice.

Spirituality is a concept that can easily be misused; rejected by materialism, co-opted by feel-good New Ageism, mistrusted by fundamental absolutism. To read Brin’s work is not only to hear the cantor in the synagogue, or even bring religion up-to-date; it is to save the spiritual quest from glibness and recognize its complexity in a world of both joy and tragedy.

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Robert C. Wright Award Winner


High School Sweethearts Kiss after Ten Years of Marriage


Blake Hoena 

She works the third shift at the laundry
and steam from the driers pools black
beneath her eyes. Every morning he searches
the puddles of her gaze for a girl
who did cartwheels across her parents’
front yard-flowered panties exposed in the sun
as her skirt wilted about tan legs.

They pass each other in the bathroom
at seven a.m. She brushes cigarette breaks
from her teeth as he lowers the toilet seat
so she won’t see the yellow droplets
around the rim. She smiles a mint,
foam green smile as his hand rubs
rough across her ass. And she remembers
a boy with clay smooth hands
who molded her, nightly, into the shape
of a woman she thought pretty.

Sometimes, over a dinner of minute steaks
and mashed potatoes, they’ll kiss. Her breath
will be a little less minty from smoking
all day and his hands will be a little more rough
from ten hours of dry walling, but if they avoid
looking into each other’s eyes
their memories just might not fail them.

About the poet:

Blake Hoena is a third year MFA student at Minnesota State University, Mankato, a teaching assistant, and a series editor for a children’s book publisher.  Currently, he is also the poetry editor for the Blue Skunk Companion. Blake is this year’s winner of the Robert C. Wright Award. Congratulations, Blake!

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Good Thunder Reading Series Events 2000 - 2001

Each event includes a craft talk at 3:00 p.m. and a reading and books signing at 7:30 p.m. All events are held on the MSU campus. For more information contact program director Richard Robbins at 507-389-2117.

Ron Carlson  (fiction/Arizona)
Tim Seibles  (poetry/Virginia)
Jonis Agee  (fiction & poetry/Minnesota)
(Jonis Agee will be the Robert C. Wright keynote speaker.)
Patricia Clark  (poetry/Michigan)
John Rezmerski  (poetry/Minnesota)
M. Evelina Galang  (fiction/Iowa)
Davis Miller  (fiction & nonfiction/North Carolina)
Antonya Nelson  (fiction/New Mexico)

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News from the Minnesota Humanities Commission:

(St. Paul) - The Minnesota Center for the Book announces that Jon Hassler is the recipient of this year’s Flanagan Prize for excellence and achievement in the literature and culture of the Midwest. He is a best-selling Minnesota author, playwright, and the person the New York Time Book Review calls “…Minnesota’s greatest cultural export.” Hassler received the Flanagan Prize as part of the 12th Annual Minnesota Book Awards, presented at a ceremony on April 14th at the Minnesota History Center.

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Minnesota Book Award Winners

 The Troll with No Heart in His Body and Other Tales of Trolls from Norway
 Lise Lunge-Larsen, Author (Duluth)
 Betsy Bowen, Illustrator (Grand Marais)
 Houghton Mifflin

The Multicultiboho Sideshow Vol.1
 Alexs D. Pate (Minneapolis)

G. E. Patterson (St. Paul)
 Graywolf Press

Short Story
Dating Miss Universe
Steven Polamsky (Orono)
 Ohio State University Press

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News and Notes

The Corresponder is a biannual publication to provide support for Minnesota writers,
as intended by its originator, Robert C. Wright.

This issue of The Corresponder was edited by Verena Theile.

 Direct all correspondence and review copies to:

The Corresponder
Minnesota State University, Mankato
P.O. Box 8400  MSU 53
Mankato, MN 56002-8400

Or E-mail to:
 Timothy Midgette (Editor, 2001-2002)

The editor would like to thank Roger Sheffer, faculty advisor, Richard Robbins, program director of the
Good Thunder Reading Series, and all the reviewers, and in particular,
Lori Buoen, Jennifer Fandel, and Aaron Rudolph for their help and support in publishing this month’s issue.

Webpage by
Bare-bones WebPages
Jerry Beyer  -- Verena Theile

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