• Exchange Laurel Poetry

    Beyond the Classroom

    Summer 2012

    Deborah Keenan: The Laurel Poetry Collective Retrospective

    Because of my good fortune in getting my books published, and because I was increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that many extraordinary writers I had taught were not so fortunate, I invited about thirty-five students/colleagues/friends to my home and suggested that we form a collective. We ended up with a group of twenty-three writers.

    Our mission was to undertake a four-year publishing project in which every member would have a full-length poetry book published, a broadside of one of their poems created in the letterpress studios of Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and a limited edition book that could be sold as an individual broadside (or marketed to collectors as a set) when all of the books were completed. We would do two major readings a year, one in St. Paul and one in Minneapolis, with additional small readings members throughout the year and throughout the state, done by two to five  members, based on when their books were published. In addition to selling books and broadsides at readings, we aimed to place our books in independent bookstores and on Amazon, and to create an active website.  Our main mission overall was to stay united, make decisions as a group, support each other, and make beautiful art and poetry that could go out into the world.

    We accomplished a great deal.  Many of us chose to work with composers for one of our big readings, and several local composers set poems to music.  We did a full-out exhibition of all our broadsides at a huge Minneapolis church along with a reading. We all wrote love poems and produced a small paper handmade book which we sold for two dollars on counter tops of bookstores and shops around town on Valentine's Day.  We asked Regula Russell, a gifted book artist, to design and produce a limited edition letterpress book called The Double Meaning of Yield that included our reasons for making art and poems . It sold out immediately and is in several national collections of letterpress books. 

    The experience exceeded my expectations.  To know that our books are at Poets House in New York City; to know that our broadsides are part of the permanent collections in the New York City Public Library system, at Carleton College and other institutions; and to watch all of us in our own particular ways stay committed and focused on this goal for so many years has been very moving.

    This past year, the remaining members invited all of us back to do a final book together.  We wanted to use the cash we had left in the bank to create a different kind of exit from our venture. All but one of the members came back, and we produced our final book, Body of Evidence. 

    We read at The Loft for our final reading. It was standing room only, with more than 250 people in the audience, and a precious night for our collective. We sold enough books to be able to pay our final bills and make donations to The Loft and to Hamline University's Creative Writing Programs Scholarship Fund. 

    I believe in making things. I believe in staying connected to talented artists and writers.  The truth is, because of my long life as a teacher and editor, I could form an amazing collective every year for the rest of my life, and amazing artists and writers would be there, because we live in such an extraordinary state for the arts.

    Story by CWP Communications Assistant Benjamin Kowalsky

  • Spring 2012

    Great writing is often about going where people refuse to go in their normal lives.  It challenges us, leads us to new places, and asks us to occupy unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable emotional states. Gail Nosek has not only worked for Hamline University, but every year she attends an eleven-day intensive residency in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.  “Coming into this program is an act of bravery,” Nosek said, in talking about what drew her to the program. “I think that people, and especially writers, are afraid to say, ‘I want to be a writer.’ I felt that I needed to take the next step in my growth as a writer and as a person.”

    Though it might seem typical for someone who works at a university to come in early in the morning and work long hours there, the residency provides its own unique challenges and opportunities to Nosek which are anything but typical.  “It’s a whirlwind,” she said, smiling.  “It’s that creative energy. It’s this synergy of all these great writers coming together and sharing ideas and talking about great writing, talking about their own ideas, their own writing. And it feeds you.”

    For Nosek, the residency isn’t just about what happens within the eleven-day intensive period, but what happens outside those eleven days to fuel her writing process. “What I think feeds us as writers is this community,” Nosek said. “We can take this as we leave and revisit it when we’re into our semester two months later, typing at our laptop, and just remember the inspiring things we heard from the lectures. That can keep you going as well.”

    Not only has the program affected Nosek in her writing life, but also in life in general.  “Every residency has its own vibe. We talk about very emotional things.  As writers you want to get to the heart of your character and tell a good story that is heartfelt and meaningful and to do that you have to look at your own life and what speaks to you in your own wounds and your own happiness.”

    “It’s such an amazing group of people; there’s so much talent here,” she continued.  “It’s unbelievable. Every time you think every story has been told, you hear a new twist on it. You hear a new story. Your hear things you would never have been able to come up with yourself.  It just feeds to you to want to tell your own story in your own voice. “

    The hours work for Nosek. For most of the year, she integrates her job at Hamline with her writing, but for twenty two days of that year, during the summer and winter, she gets her chance to experience a community that she believes is like no other.

     Story by CWP Communications Assistant Benjamin Kowalsky  

  • Spring 2011

    tornquist_exchangeWriting Peace

    In 2010, current MFA student Sigrid Tornquist served as a Peace Writer for the Women PeaceMakers Program at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego. The Women PeaceMakers Program documents the stories and best practices of international women leaders who are involved in human rights and peacemaking efforts in their home countries. Women PeaceMakers are paired with Peace Writers to document in written form their story of living in conflict and building peace in their communities and nations.

    Tornquist learned about the opportunity to be a Peace Writer when it was advertised in the Weekly Announcements email. She applied to participate in the program and was paired with PeaceMaker Sarah Akoru Lochodo from Kenya. Interviewing Lochodo, and thinking and writing about her situation, were inspiring and humbling for Tornquist. Here is how the experience deepened Tornquist's world view and enhanced her writing life:

    Professionally, I was able to immerse myself in her story, which translated into sharper, more detailed and nuanced writing. I grew as a writer by obsessing about Sarah's life--things that allowed me to access snapshot moments, something that was made easier by living in another city during the writing time. I asked myself questions like: What does this smell like to 5-year-old Sarah? What does her body feel like in response to XYZ? What came before the heroic moments that shaped her into the person she is now? There is no doubt that my skills in writing narrative accounts, fictional and creative nonfiction, were improved by the experience and continue to influence my writing.

    The following is an excerpt from Tornquist's narrative about PeaceMaker Sarah Akoru Lochodo:

    The hard, packed ground behind her hut was where Sarah found the discarded twig. She picked it up and shook it in an effort to dislodge any stray particles of dust that might have been clinging to the damp bark. Once in her mouth, she worked the pliant twig between her teeth, but its flesh was stingy with its juices; it wasn’t like a twig of the asekon tree that would release a dark, earthy liquid to lend her stomach a sense of fullness. She saw that her sisters had emerged from the hut and were now standing beside their mother with their hands up, as if they shared one will – to wave her over.

    “Why do women always have to sit on the ground, Mama?” Sarah asked the question directly, instead of in the Turkana way of talking around a subject before hitting the target. But she was speaking to her mother, after all, and it was time to leave for school.

    Her mother put the last scoop of ashes into the karaya, stood up and rubbed her back with calloused hands.

    “Why, Mama?”

    A whistling sound escaped from between her mother’s tense lips. “It is our way, Sarah. Women are lower.”

    “I don’t like it.” Sarah chewed the twig as if it held the blame.

    “Hmmm.” Sarah’s mother looked at her. “You,” she began. “You …” She stopped. Sarah’s mother shook her head and bent to pick up the karaya, a puff of ash creating a cloud above her head as she lifted it to its perch. “Hssst. Go. It is time for school.”

    © Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, 2010. photo credit: Michelle Zousmer

    Fall 2010

    Convocation 2010: An address by Deborah Keenan

    On September 2, 2010, Hamline faculty and staff members from across the university gathered for Convocation, an event intended to mark the beginning of a new academic year. Faculty member Deborah Keenan was one of four presenters invited by President Linda Hanson to compose and deliver an address at the event. Each presenter was instructed to give his or her perspective on how students are at the center of Hamline University's mission.

    Says Keenan about her address, “I chose to ask Christine Rousu, Anika Eide, and Emily Olson, from staff, to give me brief reflections about experiences they've had as members of the undergraduate and graduate communities of students here at Hamline. I wanted their voices and stories included in my speech as a sign of respect for the students and their thoughts about the topic the president asked us to speak about.”

    Keenan’s full Convocation address:

    Good morning. I am happy and anxious to have been asked to speak for a few minutes to all of you. Happy because I believe being a teacher is a sacred calling, and my forty years as a teacher has been a blessing in my life; anxious because it is scary to be in front of all of you, and always frightening to offer up one’s authentic self to friends, colleagues, and strangers.

    My dear friend, Jean Adams, is one of the great teachers in the St. Paul public school system. She was one of the founding teachers in the original version of St. Paul Open School, and has taught for years at Expo, a remarkable elementary school. She teaches fifth and sixth graders. When they are assigned essays to work on in class, she allows a bit of physical wandering in the classroom, since that helps some of her kids think and plan their approaches. Last spring one of her kids stood at the window that overlooks the playing fields by Holy Spirit School and Cretin Derham. He said, “Jean, there’s an eagle flying over the playing fields. Come and look.” Jean said he was probably mistaken, that it would be very unusual for an eagle to be flying in circles over the field. This was not an area for eagles, there being no water. Knowing Jean, I am sure she said this without judgment and with no sense of putting the student down in any way, but he insisted she come to the window. She looked, and there was a bald eagle, making beautiful circles in the sky right outside her school room windows. She turned to her students, told them to be quiet and asked that they all move to the windows quickly. So they did and stood watching the eagle fly. When the eagle flew away, the students returned to their seats. Jean said, “We are so lucky,” and they all agreed.

    Jean chooses a phrase each year to anchor the year in a specific way for her students. This year she’s chosen See Beauty. In years past she has chosen Practice Kindness, Honor the Earth, Consider the Sky, Respect Difference, and Make Community. She ties the school year together with these ideas in different ways, despite the insane pressures our great public school teachers now face, despite the fact that her many special ideas and projects, created with scholarship and love during her many years as a teacher, now rest in boxes in her basement, since there is no time allowed for hunting fossils or building dioramas after researching different cultures and times. 

    I first thought of Jean when President Hanson asked me to speak today. 

    We’re here today to reflect on our students, to honor them, to consider their dreams and ambitions, and to recommit, if any of us need to, to celebrating and responding to our students’ needs, ambitions, and dreams. Here at Hamline, we are often reminded that our students are at the center of what we do. As a faculty adviser, I know very well that our focused, smart, and caring staff makes all the difference some days in the lives of the students. I know very well the difference our librarians and tech wizards make in the lives of our students. I’ve worked here a very long time and know very well that the administrators and Board of Trustees ponder and discuss and worry over every decision that changes the lives of our students. As a teacher, I see the roles we play as we strive to keep our students at the center of our work.

    I asked the smart women who run the office to give me some examples of where they believe they’ve received this kind of student-centered teaching. Emily Olson, our fantastic student worker who has been with us for two years, wrote to me saying that when she began at Hamline, her first class was with Anne Elstrom Park, and that by the time that class was finished, she had declared her English major because of Anne’s great gifts as a teacher of writing. Emily said she had dreaded starting her college career with this class because of, and I quote, “years of choking down high school English and ‘the five-paragraph essay,’” but Anne’s class opened her eyes to new ways of writing.

    Christine Rousu, a member of our staff, received her B.A. here, then her MALS degree, and now is pursuing her MFA. Christine said, “It’s difficult for me to write about one exceptional experience in my Hamline student life—not because I can’t think of anything, but because I am thinking of hundreds. I’ve been a student here a long time and have been lucky enough to have had more than my share of incredible teachers.” At this point, Christine did a shout-out to Susie Steinbach, and then she continued by praising Patricia Weaver Francisco’s "Creative Process" class. She wrote that Patricia spoke to the class from her deep knowledge as a writer and creator herself, yet connected with each student in the room as if she understood what each particular student needed in his or her creative lives. Christine wrote that the class was “a truly transformative experience for me—like, the change-your-life-forever kind of thing.” I am glad to share Christine’s comments, since many on this campus know Patricia only from all her work against sexual violence and her commitment, year after year, to Take Back the Night Activities. This is another way that teachers decide to share other parts of their lives and work to make a difference for students.

    Anika Eide, who [was recently elected to the Hamline University Staff Association Executive Committee], also received her B.A. here and now is completing her MFA. She wrote to me, “I started my undergrad work at Hamline with the idea that my college and grad school experience was supposed to be a trajectory-like luge where I kept my head down and plowed through, just hoping to finish the fastest I could. I’ve now been a Hamline CLA student, an MFA candidate, and a staff member. From all these perspectives I can say that it is not a possibility to be disengaged here. The faculty and staff make sure of that. It is a profound thing to be able to say that the staff and faculty have been here for me not only as a student and staff member, but as a human being.” I wanted to include these voices because these young women are my friends and colleagues, and they helped me think about our campus in different ways. 

    Last semester I was given the opportunity to teach a class of undergraduates as we began our BFA program. I came to love my twenty-one students and want to let the CLA faculty know how much praise I heard for [First-Year Seminar] teachers, for wonderful coaches, for classes in every discipline on our campus and for various faculty advisers.  My undergrad students, like my graduate students, are unique and valuable individuals.  Thinking of all my students as I prepared these remarks helped me make this final list about what we all need to remember in honor of those students. I hope I have been clear in acknowledging the place and importance of all the workers on this campus but will shift now to just thinking about teaching.

    We provide different things and need to remember that what we provide has value and significance in the lives of our students maybe for a day, for a semester, for a lifetime. There is the teacher who partners in research with a student and guides that student to an adult life and a career; there’s the teacher who so enriches a student’s life by his or her commitment to other cultures and languages; there’s the teacher of law who teaches not only law but fundamental ideals of justice and fairness; there’s the teacher whose sternness and ambition for a student to achieve is just what certain students need; there’s the teacher who can see the damage done in a student’s eyes, in his or her affect, and works to undo some of this damage and to bring hope into that student’s soul; there’s the teacher who knows when to push a student, who refuses to settle for second-rate work, and suddenly that student is lit up, inspired by the idea of excellence, lit up about the idea of achieving excellence; there’s the teacher who can see when a student has had too much, been low for too long, and reaches out with kindness and offers of help; there’s the teacher who understands how to find the right person on campus for a student to talk with, learn from, whether one of our great librarians or career counselors, one of our great spiritual guides, one of our great social justice workers on campus, or someone like my friend, Katie Adams, who sees students through the difficult mapping of coursework and choices that help them achieve their goal of graduating on time—no small thing in these difficult times.

    So we must respect our students and respect ourselves, our various worlds of knowledge, and how we wish to share that knowledge with our students. We must be devoted to our students and respect their aspirations and goals. We must be kind, since so often only kindness matters. We must make visible to our students the passion we have for what we teach. We must offer them our clarity and our high expectations for them and for ourselves. We need to present our authentic selves to our students and ask for their authentic spirits in return. We need to show our students the beauty of what we teach, whether a philosophy, an equation, a painting, a poem, the intricacies of anatomy, or of a culture. We must teach students to believe in a well-educated future. We need to remind them that as individuals they stand in the center and at the margins and that they have to take turns in the center and at the margins in order to understand and see the value in other human beings, cultures, and species.

    The world is worrisome, tormented, beautiful, impossible, compelling, interesting, dangerous, safe, and, goodness knows, economically challenging for us, and for our students and their parents and guardians. I wish for all the teachers in the world, when they run out of steam, and can’t find the passion and joy and commitment for teaching any more, that they can retire with peace in their hearts, knowing they did their best for all their students.

    Over the years I’ve joked with my own four kids about many possible statements for my gravestone. I will spare you the most witty and acknowledge the one I mentioned to my oldest daughter, who received her MA in Teaching here at Hamline and now teaches at Great River High School: “I tried my best to be a great and honorable teacher.”  This goal is hugely important to me, and I hope anything I said today helps each of us remember how in our own ways we continue to value and commit to each student, each beautiful heart and soul we are privileged enough to make connections with at our university. Thanks for your kind attention.  

    Spring/Summer 2010

    Sometimes, when people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I get to sponsor privileged conversations. This is what teaching is about, it’s what spiritual direction and retreats are about, it’s what I most love doing. One of the delights of this past year has been that my book of essays on the subject of hope—Apprenticed to Hope: A Sourcebook for Difficult Times (Augsburg, 2009)—has opened doors for conversation with people I would never have met otherwise.

    Before I say more, allow me a definition. Hope is the sense of a way forward.  It is the sense that things can work out, that there are solutions to problems, or at least resources to deal with the problem. Hope is at the intersection of many forces: a person’s worldview and temperament, his or her life experience, learned confidence in life, or fear of life. It is an essence, a life orientation.  Different from optimism, which can deny the tragic dimensions of life, hope must have its eyes open to life as it is now, because the path to the future begins with the situation at present.

    I have been invited into many settings: with doctors, nurses, chaplains, and social workers at North Memorial Hospital (which let 600 employees go in the past year); with folks in cancer and chronic illness support groups; with therapists and healers at a counseling center; with the staff at Walker Care facilities; with residents of Becketwood Estates; with church members, seminarians, people from the Department of Natural Resources—you name the place, and it is likely I have been there. I have been struck by how much people welcome a conversation about hope. When we get into it, we realize that it is a vast subject. It’s no wonder, given these turbulent times. People have lost jobs and homes, or fear they will lose them. They cannot afford health insurance and worry about their kids’ future. Their hard-earned retirement savings have dwindled drastically. Any of these threats can swamp hope. 

    It is a bedrock subject if there ever was one. As Barbara Kingsolver put it:  “The least you can do in your life is to figure out what to hope for, and the most you can do is live inside that hope, not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof.” 

    Given how essential it is, it’s surprising that we do not often sit down together to reflect on hope, on what it is and how it works, on how to hold onto it when it’s slipping away.  Another irony is that hope is sometimes treated as a lightweight subject, fitting for Hallmark cards perhaps, but not much help when the chips are down. This may be a result of Emily Dickinson’s oft-quoted line about hope as “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” It can leave a person asking, “What does something as ethereal as hope have to commend it to a world full of beasts with fangs? Is hope an undersized David staring up at he Goliath of Earth’s troubles with nothing more than a slingshot for a tool?” (from “All Shall Be Well,” a sermon by James Gertmenian, Plymouth Congregational Church, Minneapolis)     

    Would you bet money on hope? I would. Hope can be potent, as powerful as any medication and muscular enough to start a revolution. 

    My understanding of hope has deepened through these conversations. I remember a chaplain saying that he strives to be emotionally present to his patients in such a way that hope might emerge. A young dentist at a senior residence said, “It is not always possible to get things exactly right for elderly people and their teeth, but if I do the best I can to make them as comfortable as possible, it usually ignites the flame of hope.” 

    Parents, in particular, have been outspoken about how challenging it can be to help a sullen teenager keep an eye out for opportunities, when all he or she wants to do is to crawl into a hole and stay cynical. Many people have welcomed the suggestion that at times hope requires work: just to stay in its vicinity can take all the determination and perseverance one has. Even so, you wouldn’t want to live on hope alone. Eventually it has to give birth to something. On year five or six of a chronic illness I did not want more hope, I wanted health. Poor people do not want more hope; they want jobs, places to live, choices, opportunities.

    As to hope’s origins, that remains a mystery. Whether it comes from deep within us, or from somewhere beyond us, this essence, this intelligence, this energy, this presence we call hope enlivens every project and adds luster and energy to each life it graces. We need to bring hope to bear on the darkness of our time.

  • CWP News


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    MFA alum Susan Triemert's flash essay 'Snowball,' was recently published by Anti-Heroin Chic. Anti-Heroin Chic is a collective journal of poetry, photography, art work, stories, essays, interviews and more.