Friday, July 22, 2016

North Dakota is Everywhere

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Let's see if I can get the Roundup location right this week.... let's all go meet Chelanne at Books4Learning!

Here at Live Your Poem it's been a catch-up kind of week. I've been cleaning out drawers and closets, doing some crafting (more on this soon!), reading, and remembering.

On my last trip to North Dakota, I visited the Heritage Center in Bismarck where I learned, among other things, that there are many types of barbed wire.

I also witnessed for the first time, cottonwood fluff.

And, in the gift shop, I found a book of poems titled NORTH DAKOTA IS EVERYWHERE: An Anthology of Contemporary North Dakota Poets, edited by  Heidi Czerwiec.

I started reading it on the airplane, and over the past weeks a few poems have emerged as favorites, and I'd like to share them with you here today. I mean, is there any better way to learn about a place than from its poets? Reminds me of an NPR piece years and years about about any mission to meet alien life should include on the ship a POET... if anyone knows anything about that piece, I would love to hear about it! (It was pre-internet days... wouldn't even know how to go about finding it.)

A Moment of Clarity
by Dale Jacobson

The leaves were green flame.

The birch tree was a white journey
from dark water to clear sky,
roots to radiance.

The crow was a long echo that took flight.

North Dakota Sestina
(ending with a line from Psalm 19)
by Rhoda Janzen

Beyond the matchbook parsonage
in fields reduced to stubble,
the rows untangled, as if a comb
had pulled them taut. The sigh
of the wind, sad at harvest, came rolling
like an old-fashioned wagon wheel.

The Leibelts' combine wheeled
around the tiny parsonage,
the great machinery rolling
toward the stiff August stubble.
Hulling loganberries, the child sighed
as she watched the combine comb

the wheat. Mornings, Mother's comb
straightened, thus: the braided wheel
of hair loosened like a sigh.
Racing from the tidy parsonage
to the fields of wild stubble,
the girl, hot, began rolling

her long sleeves. She tripped, rolling
down the incline into a catacomb
of indifferent yellow stubble,
sharp as the spokes of a wheel.
Her mother in the parsonage
came running. and the child sighed,

as if in all the Dakotas one full sigh
could stop the stupid tears rolling
or the thought of the stiff parsonage
and the terrible pull of the comb.
The mother roller her like a wheel,
to see the scratches from the stubble,

but the girl saw on the stubble
collapsing in the filed. She heard the sigh
of the combine finishing its summer, the wheel
of winter like a thunderous silo rolling.
In her hair she spread her hand like a comb
and pinched her eyes shut to the parsonage.

Hair scythed short as stubble, she'd cartwheel
the parsonage and land in the field rolling,
a sigh sweeter than honey or the honeycomb.

The Memory of Water
by Mark Vinz

Here where the Sheyenne joins the Red --
upstream, the Bois de Sioux, and down
the Buffalo -- imagination finds its way
in swirls of white stirred by the prairie winds.

These are the places towns were built,
water flowing underneath snow-covered ice
laced with tracks of skis and snowmobiles
and creatures rarely glimpsed by passersby.

Today I'm home from a desert visit, where
two weeks of rain had finally broken --
arroyos carried everything away
except for the pools on asphalt roads.

How inevitably it all flows off and disappears --
water and what it has been named for --
here, in this glacial lakebed where I live,
still dreaming of the great herds passing.

Also in the gift shop I spied on the top shelf a sculpture of Sacagawea that matches the one my father left for me. "That's yours," he said, the last time I visited him. "When the time comes, that's yours."

Papa said Sacagawea reminded him of me. Now she keeps me company in my studio. And oh, what adventures we are having! Thank you for reading.


  1. Thanks for taking us with you, Irene. I especially like "The birch tree was a white journey/from dark water to clear sky,"and "the wheel/of winter like a thunderous silo rolling" and "imagination finds its way
    in swirls of white stirred by the prairie winds." There's something about the prairie that makes everything so vivid.

  2. Your journey was certainly filled with discoveries! I love the intensity of the first poem--so brief yet so vivid. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hello dear Irene,
    Appreciations for highlighting these North Dakotah word artists & more of your soul journey West.
    These lovely poems make me wonder if each state has a similar collection.

    And that gal in your hand - what a life she led.
    She is one of my heroines, too.

  4. Thank you for the glimpse of North Dakota. I've never been but this poetry took me there. It would be a wonderful thing to have a collection of poetry by geography.

  5. Irene, you brought so many riches home to keep your father near, each one a treasure. The poems are lovely, never have I thought that green brightness we see could be thought of as "green flame". I did know about barbed wire, from a story read once, I think. The Sacajawea stature is special I see, too. A museum in Cody, Wyoming has a wonderful sculpture of her that I remember fondly. I'm happy that you brought much goodness from your trip.

  6. I'm quite fascinated by the different types of barbed wire. Here in Haiti they call razor wire "American wire."

  7. Thank you for the glimpse of North Dakota in poems! I especially appreciate the sestina, which makes me want to try (again) to create one. My efforts so far have not held together as well as this one does, with one gorgeous image after another.

  8. Love the poetry! Especially, "the sigh/ of the combine finishing its summer, the wheel/ of winter like a thunderous silo rolling."

  9. I am still hanging on every line of Dale Jacobson's A Moment of Clarity. It truly paints a beautiful picture of the landscape. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thank you so much for posting about the anthology! Editing it was a fantastic experience -- contacting writers and bringing together their work in a way that creates a composite portrait of the state. I'm so glad you're enjoying it.

  11. I love the photo of you and the statue of Sacagawea. I can see poems, a novel in verse written about her life--a poetry biography. Do you have any of the dollar coins with her on it?

  12. The things we take for granted -- barbed wire and cottonwood fluff.

  13. I love how you've captured bits of your vacation that feed your poetic muse. Having grown up on a Saskatchewan farm, the poem about the stubble and the combine bring it all back (especially the stubble scratches and stinging). Thanks for sharing your holiday! (Those many types of barbed wire fascinate me...)

  14. "is there any better way to learn about a place than from its poets? "
    What beautiful poems that gave me a mini-trip this hot, humid morning in Virginia. Thank you for that.
    I don't have a sculpture near where I write....might have to work on that!

  15. Barbed wire, North Dakota poets, sculptures. The breath and depth a Latham blog post always puts a smile on my face. :-)

  16. Barbed wire, North Dakota poets, sculptures. The breath and depth a Latham blog post always puts a smile on my face. :-)

  17. What a view, Irene--
    "she tripped, rolling
    down the incline into a catacomb
    of indifferent yellow stubble,
    sharp as the spokes of a wheel."

    Yes, the poets take us with them into the place...

  18. I too, like the first poem. I'm a sucker for crows. So nice that you have the statue to aid you in coming to terms with your loss.

  19. Thank you for sharing all of these North Dakota gems, Irene: poetry (a peek at ND), barbed wire variations (who knew?), cottonwood fluff (we never see this in the desert!) and an inspirational (on multiple levels) Sacajawea statue. =)


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