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:

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:

September 8, 2021



A manifesto is defined as a declaration of one's beliefs, opinions, motives, and intentions. It is simply a document that an organization or person writes that declares what is important to them. A manifesto functions as both a statement of principles and a bold, sometimes rebellious, call to action.  It reflects your intent and your motivation.

Here are some manifestos (and some statements) from writers and artists: 

Wendell Berry

The Tracing, the path with every misstep along the way…

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work

and when we no longer know which way to go,

we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Theodore Roethke

On Poetry and Craft 

In poetry, there are no casual readers.

Nothing seen, nothing said.

The lyric is almost forgotten in this time of sawing and snoring and scraping.

Energy is the soul of poetry. Explosive active language.

Live in a perpetual great astonishment.

Rhythm depends on expecting.

The literal, that grave of all the dull.

I need the botanist's leaf more than the poet's flower.

Put it this way: I detest dogs, but adore wolves.

Eternal apprenticeship is the life of the true poet.

That intense profound sharp longing to make a true poem.

Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.

Art is our defense against hysteria and death.

If we muddle and thump through a paraphrase, with side comments, however brilliant, we still do

not have the poem.

Talent talks; genius does.

Poetry is an act of mischief.

A poetry of longing: not for escape, but for a greater reality.

The greatest assassin of life is haste.

Make ready for your gifts. Prepare. Prepare.

Rosemarie Waldrop (experimental poet)

A manifesto: “shall we escape analogy”—without question mark.


The French film maker said of his work that it was "as if I wanted to write a sociological essay in the

form of a novel, and all I had to do it with was notes of music."

Frank Lloyd Wright

Form follows function – that has been misunderstood.

Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union. -Frank Lloyd Wright

Pablo Picasso

"When you start with a portrait and search for a pure form, a clear volume, through

successive eliminations, you arrive inevitably at the egg. Likewise, starting with the

egg and following the same process in reverse, one finishes with the portrait."

Vladimir Nabokov

"Style and Structure are the essence of a book;

great ideas are hogwash."

Pablo Neruda

Towards an Impure Poetry (an introduction he wrote for a book of poetry)

It is good, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at

rest. Wheels that have crossed long, dusty distances with their mineral and vegetable

burdens, sacks from the coal bins, barrels, and baskets, handles and hafts for the

carpenter's tool chest. From them flow the contacts of man with the earth, like a text for all

troubled lyricists. The used surfaces of things, the wear that the hands give to things, the

air, tragic at times, pathetic at others, of such things - all lend a curious attractiveness to

the reality of the world that should not be underprized.

In them one sees the confused impurity of the human condition, the massing of things, the

use and disuse of substances, footprints and fingerprints, the abiding presence of the

human engulfing all artifacts, inside and out.

Let that be the poetry we search for: worn with the hand's obligations, as by acids, steeped

in sweat and in smoke, smelling of lilies and urine, spattered diversely by the trades that we

live by, inside the law or beyond it.

A poetry impure as the clothing we wear, or our bodies, soup-stained, soiled with our

shameful behavior, our wrinkles and vigils and dreams, observations and prophecies,

declarations of loathing and love, idylls and beasts, the shocks of encounter, political

loyalties, denial and doubts, affirmations and taxes.

The holy canons of madrigals, the mandates of touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing, the

passion for justice, sexual desire, the sea sounding-willfully rejecting and accepting nothing:

the deep penetration of things in the transports of love, a consummate poetry soiled by the

pigeon's claw, ice-marked and tooth-marked, bitten delicately with our sweatdrops and

usage, perhaps. Till the instrument so restlessly played yields us the comfort of its surfaces,

the woods show the knottiest suavities shaped by the pride of the tool. Blossom and water

and wheat kernel share one precious consistency: the sumptuous appeal of the tactile.

Let no one forget them. Melancholy, old mawkishness impure and unflawed, fruits of a

fabulous species lost to the memory, cast away in a frenzy's abandonment-moonlight, the

swan in the gathering darkness, all hackneyed endearments: surely that is the poet's

concern, essential and absolute. Those who shun the "bad taste" of things will fall flat on the ice.

Neruda, Pablo. Five Decades: Poems 1925-1970. Ben Belitt, editor and translator. Grove

Press, c1974 (pp xxi- xxii)

September 2, 2021

In the Kalevala: Three Rivers around Pohjola

The beauty of other cultures and languages is the discovery of different ways of thinking.  New frames. I've been reading a book of essays, Mythic Discourses: Studies in Uralic Traditions, edited by Frog, Anna-Leena Siikala & Eila Stepanova published by the Finnish Literature Society, Helsinki.  I also had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Eila Stepanova sponsored by the Finlandia Foundation. This volume provides me with much more context and history as I read and study the Kalevala, the epic poem of Finland, collected from oral tradition, singing minstrels, by Elias Lonnrot. There are several translations of the book, and I have about four of those.  I've been reading the Kalevala for many years. It is a source for me, a place where I learn more about my family's Finnish history, heritage and culture. 

It takes time to see and understand subtleties. In the English language, many American and European people conceive of the afterlife with Christian perspectives. Most are familiar with the story of what happens in spiritual texts in the Christian narrative: heaven or hell.  Heaven is the most sublime place, the heavenly, blissful, sunlit blessed place with God, the creator.  Hell is the worst place, the miserable, painful, fiery, dark place with the devil.  For a time, the Catholic church held a category called purgatory.  But in the Kalevala, with its pre-Christian roots, this understanding is somewhat different  It is not even called the "afterlife" but the Otherworld, Pohjola.  The Finnish word Pohjola literally translates to North land.  

This is a different frame. The binary is less clear. Pohjola is either a womb or a grave or a strange village or country.  It is not heaven, it is not in the sky. It is an island set upon open waters. The concepts of Tuonela or Manala refer to the realm of the dead or the underworld. Rivers must be crossed in order to find Pohjola, and the rivers are the Rivers of Tuonela, Pojohola, and Manala which have dangerous rapids and waves like vertical swords. Not many return, it could be said.  Not any.  

In old tradition, in the time of Kalevala rune-singers, a lament singer must perform at funerals in order to ensure a safe passage for the deceased.  Eila Stepanova provides fascinating information and stories about the women's laments alongside the Kalevala.  Here is a description of the presentations and I have also included a link to both lectures.  

Women’s Laments alongside the Kalevala: Forgotten Symbols of Finland’s Nation-Building

Eila Stepanova discusses Karelian laments in the context of national romanticism in Finland starting from the nineteenth century up to the present day, beginning with Elias Lönnrot, who was also the very first collector of this tradition of women’s poetry. In the context of national romanticism in 1800s, this genre of traditional poetry was important in Finland’s nation-building project but has been forgotten in the shadow of Lönnrot’s Kalevala.

Eila Stepanova is a Finnish folklorist specializing on Karelian and more broadly on North Finnic lament poetry. She received her doctoral degree at the University of Helsinki. She is recognized as the foremost active expert on Karelian laments and as an expert in Karelian culture more generally with a variety of fieldwork experience. Stepanova is currently executive director of the Society of Karelian Culture (Karjalan Sivistysseura).

The Viking Age in Finland

The Viking Age is a period of history that has fascinated people for generations, and interest in it has only grown in recent years with the popularity of programs like The Vikings. Popular knowledge of the Viking Age has tended to focus on Scandinavians and their westward expansion across the North Atlantic. In this talk, I will introduce the Viking Age as a period of mobility and cultural contacts that also extended to the east along inland routes. In these regions, speakers of the language that would eventually become the Finnish, Karelian, and Vepsian languages were also active participants. I focus on territories where Finnic languages were spoken or where they would be spoken later. Today, we tend to imagine where languages are spoken on a map more or less along the lines of where they were spoken in the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the Viking Age, however, the situation was very different. Most people don’t realize it, but the Viking Age was pivotal in the histories of Finnish and Karelian languages and cultures, ultimately leading them to be dominant in the areas where they were familiar in recent centuries.

Frog is an Academy of Finland Research Fellow and Associate Professor of Folklore Studies at the University of Helsinki. He specializes in early Finnic and Scandinavian contacts and cultural reconstruction. He received his PhD from University College London in 2010 and an Associate Professorship from the University of Helsinki in 2013. From 2011–2014, he was co-coordinator of the Viikinkiaika Suomessa – Viking Age in Finland project, which produced the books Fibula, Fabula, Fact: The Viking Age in Finland (edited by Joonas Ahola and Frog with Clive Tolley, 2014) and The Viking Age in Åland: Insights into Identity and Remnants of Culture (edited by Joonas Ahola, Frog, and Jenni Lucenius, 2014). 

The direct link the lectures is here:  Eila Stepanova is first.  Frog is second. 

Here is a link to the pdf version of Mythic Discourses: Studies in Uralic Tradition.  If you are interested, I encourage you to buy the book.