Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Beautiful Sound

Hearing that Joyce Sutphen was recently named Minnesota Poet Laureate by the state Governor is to my ears much like the effect of her poetry—a beautiful sound indeed. Governor Mark Dayton made the announcement on August 23 that Sutphen will succeed current laureate Robert Bly, who was named the state’s first official poet laureate in 2007. For anyone who has read the work of Sutphen, it shouldn’t be hard to understand what the selection committee saw in the poet and her body of work. Sutphen’s earliest memories of poetry harken back to time spent with her father growing up on their farm near St. Joseph, Minnesota. “He always made little funny rhymes for us all through the day,” she recalled. “We’d try to keep up with him, but mostly we just stood back and let him go.” From those days she continues to draw inspiration, but has also noted that what she sees of Minnesota from her car window on the drive to school and home again is a revelation as well. An award-winning poet who teaches literature and creative writing at Gustavus Adolphus College in St Peter, she says about her particular spot of Minnesota, “I live on a 100-acre marsh. I’ve written about the birds, the deer, the wind in the reeds…” All of this is evident in the five collections of poetry she has published. Her work has appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Minnesota Monthly and North Dakota Review. She has also been a guest on A Prairie Home Companion and is a favorite of Garrison Keillor and The Writer’s Almanac.

Twice before the poems of Joyce Sutphen have found a place in these pages, the first time back in December of 2009, the second time in January of 2010. The two poems below are both from her most recent book of collected work, First Words (2010).


I wasn’t born the year she sang that song,

but I miss it anyway. I miss the

clarinet that starts it out; I miss the

way the lady says he done her wrong.

I would’ve liked a red-feathered hat,

a tailored suit and high-heeled shoes, a pearl

necklace—a single strand—and leather gloves.

Nothing I wear will ever look like that.

There’s something about the saxophone

and the piano slightly off the beat

that makes me imagine someone handsome

who’s just about to fall in love with me,

and god, I wish I knew what happens when

he turns and…too bad—I wasn’t born then.


I see my father’s face in the mirror,

stripping off the white mask that wraps

along his cheekbone, over his mouth,

and, chin jutted up, down his neck.

The silver razor tap-taps the sink;

the ivory-handled brush swishes back

and forth in the cup, and every time

he turns the handle, the faucet squeaks.

I watch the steaming water fill the sink,

and when he splashes it on his face,

the mask dissolves into his waiting hands;

the towel turns on the wooden roller.

How I regret being a girl and never

being able to find myself this way,

to prove how steady I am,

how close to the edge I can come.


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About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America