July 29, 2022

Upcoming Readings

October 19, 2022, Wednesday, 6:00 pm.  Poet Laureate Reading at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn A. Martin Library, featuring Sheila Packa and Dani Pieratos.  

October 27, 2022, Thursday, 7:00 pm, Quaker Meeting House, Duluth, Minnesota. Bart Sutter and Sheila Packa. Piano by David From.

November 6, 2022, Sunday, 3:00 pm. Nordic Center, Lake Avenue, Duluth, MN.  Reading and Artist Reception.  Sheila Packa reading from her new book, Surface Displacements, along with a poetry video installation, and an exhibition of aerial image photographs by Sara Pajunen.  

The Craft of Writing

The Craft of Writing, a conference sponsored by Wisconsin Writers Association, is happening on September 30 and Oct. 1, 2022 at Barkers Island Inn & Conference Center in Superior, Wisconsin. I'm on a panel "Tips and Tricks for Writing Across Genres" with four other great writers: Jan Jensen (fiction), Christy Wopat (nonfiction/memoir), Dale Botten (screenwriting), and Chris Monroe (children's book author/illustrator.   There are also wonderful presentations and opportunities to meet people and talk about the craft of writing. 

Follow this link to see the detailed schedule.  Register today! https://wiwrite.org/Fall-Conference-2022

June 5, 2022

Talking About A Poem

"I don't like poetry," some people say. Others say they don't understand it, and that's why they avoid it.  

So, how does one read a poem?  I like to look at the beginning line and the end line to see where the poet enters and where the poet leaves.  

In this wonderful poem by Adam Zagajewski, the opening line immediately has a narrator ("I"), action, and setting. The I might be the poet himself, or it might be a persona that the poet has created for this narrative.  Ambiguity in a poem is common. It allows the reader to find more than one meaning.  "I" could even refer to the reader. 

Then, the pronoun "you" refers to the souls of the dead. The poem appears to be addressed to the souls.  The narrator asks "where are you?" It is an existential moment, definitely.  After the question, the forest images predominate. Using figurative language, the narrator says, "I heard the green leaves dream./ I heard the dream of the bark from which/ boats, ships and sails will arise."  Figures of speech, or figurative language, is characteristic of many poems. Metaphors use one thing to explain something else.  Imaginative images and scenes like this give the reader a vision of time and beautiful transformations.  Then the birds come in "on the balconies of branches," each singing a unique song "...not asking for anything, with no bitterness or regret,/"  Here the birds are described in human terms.  

Next, a turn. A leap. In a sonnet, this shift is called a volta. I like to think of this moment as similar to a bend in the river that brings you to a new vista.  It brings us to the ending: "I realized you are in singing..." The ending line has a new pronoun, not "I" or not "you" which have occurred in the earlier lines, but "we."  The word signals a shift. Now the narrator and souls are drawn together as a we, or perhaps it's the narrator and audience or readers that are drawn together.  It's a satisfying answer to the initial question.  

Repeated words, phrases or images are important. Rhythm and sound are important, because all of this forms a kind of music. In this poem, it is a call and response form. "Where are you? ....Where are you?"  and "I heard...  I heard..."   and then, "...you (souls of the dead) are in singing,/ unseizable as music, indifferent as/ musical notes, distant from us/ as we are from ourselves."

Unseizable. A lovely word and a lovely rhythm in this phrase. Notice the line breaks. A line break does create a sort of pause, a hesitation, and here the line break that occurs after "distant from us" (of course, the birds are distant because they are far above and of course souls of the dead are far) does something new. There is a subtle shift, for the next line reads "as we are from ourselves." Now that's surprising. The poet is saying that we don't know ourselves, that we have parts of our being we cannot easily reach, and perhaps we cannot ever reach. The ambiguity expands meaning. He might mean himself, he might mean the reader.  

A poem like this captures a moment, a place, and a person who has longing. It speaks of spiritual truths to the reader: we have loss, a connection to the souls of the dead. We have lost loved ones, friends, people in our community, and we have also been aware of an internal loss, the inability to know our own self, our connection to our own being.  The phrase "Where are you?" now takes on this new meaning.  

In just a few lines on the page, this poem says so much concisely. The words and images have beauty.  One poet said that poems are made of forces.  If so, what are the forces operating inside this poem?  There are no definitive answers, no right interpretation or wrong interpretation, only things to ponder. There are impressions. Resonances. Echoes. There is breath. There is light and music.  

To find out more about this poet, go to https://poets.org/poet/adam-zagajewski


May 22, 2022

Coming Soon: Surface Displacements

Looking forward to seeing my new work published by Wildwood River Press! Available August 2022! 

These poems travel through mining excavations and waterways vulnerable to environmental contamination and climate change in Minnesota, where the Northern Continental Divide crosses the Laurentian Divide and creates three watersheds that flow into the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes, and Hudson Bay. These are stories and images, historical and contemporary, about people who arrive or are displaced, whose language is replaced by another language, and who find a fluid space full of gaps, silence, and possibility.

The cover is an aerial image by Sara Pajunen, and the book design by Kathy McTavish. 

“In Surface Displacements, the spirit of the ancient Finnish shamans breathes again. Sheila Packa’s best early poems recalled her youth on Minnesota’s Iron Range, growing up in households where Finnish was still spoken, where the immigrant towns were gritty working-class, in a landscape of mine pits, forests, and water. That environment remains her fundamental source, though now everything has changed, changed utterly, as Packa has learned, with increasing confidence, to incorporate history, science, and myth, even as her language has grown more musical, her poems more spiritual. Like the old shamans, she has become a shapeshifter, able — through the dreamy trance of poetry —to speak in the voice of a snail, rivers and lakes, an entire landscape and its people.” —Bart Sutter, author of So Surprised to Find You Here

“There is a beckoning, a teaching, a singing and lamenting in Sheila Packa’s Surface Displacements. In rivers, headwaters, displacement and the otherworld we are given ways of navigating earth’s trauma in the sink and rise of all that is broken, all that survives. Whispers, dialogues, and the power of forgotten language are forged in the stellar poetic title poem that speaks of both beauty and loss. This is an important book of place, that calls out truth, journeys into landscape, history and the natural world. Ancestry runs through this book as challenge and praise, a way of naming that offers “the tongue with the old root.” Packa dives into the body of language and voices the body of the earth with skill and relish. “To speak is to mend” is an invitation to us all in this intimate and compassionate calling out of the elegant and fragile wonders of this world.” —Diane Jarvenpa, author of The Way She Told Her Story and The Tender Wild Things

Surface Displacements is a Lake Superior epic, an Iron Range chronicle, a Northland saga in which the human psyche merges with rock and water. This book has a heartbeat, and its rhythms are those of Great Lake seiches and flooded open pit mine waves. This poet’s practice is not only one of noticing but also of becoming, as self and landscape merge. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that humanity and geography have always been one, and Packa’s words remind us of what we know in our bones: that life is movement, displacement, and constant “shift(s) from state to state”; and also that we are connected to a core of belonging forged from earth and spirit. These gorgeous poems are incantations of legacy, deep roots, disturbance, destruction, flight, and transformation.” —Julie Gard, author of Home Studies

"Through the art of attention, Sheila Packa elevates the landscape of northern Minnesota to the holy. Each poem is a room rich with texture, imagery, and sound that resonates long after one puts the verses down. This is a book to simultaneously lose oneself and find oneself in." —Darci Schummer, author of Six Months in the Midwest


Thank you to these organizations for grant support of various aspects of this project:  

Sheila Packa was a fiscal year 2022 recipient of a Creative Support for Individuals grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity was made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. She was also a fiscal year 2020 recipient of an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Sheila also received an Individual Artist Career Development grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council in 2015. This activity is made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, thanks to appropriations from The McKnight Foundation and the Minnesota State Legislature and general and arts and cultural heritage funds.

This book project, originally titled Three Rivers, was also made possible with the support of a grant in 2016 from Finlandia Foundation National, www.FinlandiaFoundation.org. Finlandia Foundation National invites applications for its grants program, which awards funds to projects related to Finnish-American and Finnish history, heritage, preservation, arts and culture.

December 2, 2021

Translation as Discovery

Jhumpa Lahiri began her successful writing career with stories and novels. Her parents were Bengali, and Jhumpa wrote in English. After a trip to Italy when she was in college, she found herself increasingly drawn to the Italian language, and she studied it for many years. Finally, she and her husband moved to Italy, and since then she has written in Italian and translated many pieces of Italian literature, and lately Jhumpa has begun to write poetry in Italian.  In "The Joy of Translation as Discovery," she said:  

Translation shows me how to work with new words, how to experiment with new styles and forms, how to take greater risks, how to structure and layer my sentences in different ways. Reading exposes me to all this, but translating goes under the skin and shocks the system, such that these new solutions emerge in unexpected and revelatory ways. The particular ecosystem containing Latin, Italian, and English renders Italian more familiar, and English more marvelously strange. The attention to language that translation demands is moving my work not only in new directions but into an increasingly linguistically focused dimension: I would never have begun writing poetry without the intimate exposure to the Italian language that only translation can provide; this shift was particularly surprising given that I have never written poetry in English....It establishes new rhythms and approaches that cross-pollinate the process of contemplating and crafting my own work.

 Finding ways to dislodge herself from the familiar, she has entered a new phase where surprise and new ways of thinking have changed her writing life and enhanced her career.  To read more of her thoughts about this, see the full article here: 


more info: 


October 25, 2021

Shanai Matteson: Writing and Art on the Iron Range


In conjunction with her Overburden/Overlook exhibition at the
Shanai Matteson will facilitate a roundtable discussion with women artists on the Iron Range.

Sara Pajunen
Sheila Packa
Mary Erickson
and others

Please join the conversation on Tuesday, October 26 from 7-8 pm.

October 5, 2021

Poems: Wedding Blessings

Poetry's roots come from ritual and ceremony.  Eight years ago, I was commissioned to write a poem for the wedding of two wonderful women.  I wrote two poems, the epithalamion, and another as a candle-lighting blessing for their marriage (which faced the rejection of some members of their family).  Here is the blessing poem. Now they celebrate their 8th anniversary, and they continue to make the world a better place.  #lovewins

We light these candles
for those who cannot be here today
To thank them
For the times they shared the flame
The song, the prayer, and the love
In their eyes.
We light these candles
For our own arrivals and departures
And for those
Traveling farther and traveling closer.
With the light of many others,
We light these candles
For the road to love becomes a map
That each of us must draw
We light these candles
Send wishes of love
That will never be extinguished.
- Sheila Packa, Night Train Red Dust (Wildwood River)

September 20, 2021

Writing Advice

Library in the Faroe Islands

In The New Yorker, Colm Tóibin on writing: "...Get an image. Follow an object. Follow the thing to see where it takes you--or follow the rhythm..."  He wasn't just talking about poetry, but novels and short stories and all writing.   

In Lithub, “The first line must convince me that it somehow embodies the entire unwritten text,” said William Gibson. 

Advice from others might be useful, but chances are you must follow your own path.  Find a place that you can write. I think it's important to respect your judgment about what makes a good poem.  What is your aesthetic? What do you like in other works of poetry?  If a subject presents itself to you, then write about it. Use your own voice. Listen to the work. Explore it deeply and then focus. Use your strengths.  

September 10, 2021

Joy Harjo Comes to the Northland


United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (Muscogee Nation)
October 18, 2021 at 7:00pm CST on Zoom
sponsored by the Fond Du Lac Tribal Community College (FDLTCC) and AICHO.  
To register for this free virtual event go to 


Initially this event was going to be live, but the pandemic! Join on Zoom for a wonderful reading and celebration of the United States Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo. 

Diane Seuss

 Do you want to explore ekphrasis? Read Diane Seuss's Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl This poet is intense, funny, brilliant and class-conscious. Do you want to see how a contemporary poet handles the sonnet? Her new book is Frank: Sonnets 

Read a poem here: https://lithub.com/a-sonnet-by-diane-seuss/

In 2019, Donovan writes that her poems "dance with form, turning it on its side and tearing it apart to create something new—as with the American sentences and sonnets with seventeen-syllable lines in her latest book, Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl. I love what I call ‘freaking form,’ she tells me. “Like a bathtub that can be made into a shrine to the Virgin Mary.” To read the whole interview, go to 


If you would like to hear her read in person at St. Mary's, register for the Zoom link:  https://www.saintmarys.edu/evening-diane-seuss-registration-form