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Twin-Lens-Reflex Camera, illustration from Black & White Photography: A Basic Manual by Henry Horenstein, Droid Shots, original photograph edited with Paper Camera, Golden Valley, Minnesota, February 2012, photos © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



One of the goals that came out of my last writing retreat with the Midwest writers was to focus on organizing, storing, revisualizing, and selling my photographs. I took a photojournalism class this week from a journalist who makes a living from her stories and photographs. I spent much of this morning perusing old photo books while sipping French Roast (I have a Twin-Lens-Reflex in my collection just like the one in the illustration above).

Old print photograph and design books are inexpensive and inspirational. It is exciting to view the work of the photographers who came before us and to learn from their art. At MCAD, I focused primarily on black & white photography, along with alternative processes. I’d like to do more along those lines with my digital photographs. I remember…


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, February 18th, 2012, with gratitude to Liz (one of my Muses) who consistently brings home tons of books from our local library

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By Teri Blair


St. Paul's Icelandic Lutheran Church, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved

St. Paul’s Icelandic Lutheran Church, Minneota, Minnesota, where the services for Minnesota writer Bill Holm were held, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.




Early on a Sunday morning in March, I drove three hours to attend the funeral of writer Bill Holm. Since that day, I’ve wanted to write about it. But I keep getting stuck. I pace. I try again. The paper is crumpled and thrown in the trash.

What’s wrong? I’m trying to make my writing as grand as Bill was, or as eloquent as I think he deserves. When I stop writing and try to do the dishes instead, I consider what Natalie Goldberg would tell me to do. She’d say, Just tell the story. The story is enough.




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The First Settlement, sign outside the St. Paul’s
Icelandic Lutheran Church, March 2009, photo
© 2009 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.





Bill was born on a Minnesota prairie farm, educated at the local public school, and grew to be six-and-a-half feet tall. He had a huge shock of red hair that turned white with age, ruddy cheeks, and a beautiful, booming voice. He left Minnesota after college to live around the world, but by the time he was 40 he had returned to his hometown, to his roots. He taught English and poetry for 27 years at Southwest State, and proceeded to publish 16 books. He bought a house in Iceland, and split his time between Minneota, Minnesota and a cottage near the Arctic Circle. He was bold and certain and convicted. He was funny and irreverent and warm.

I heard Bill speak a year before he died. He was reading from The Window of Brimnes at the Minneapolis Public Library. He was three weeks shy of retirement, and could barely contain his excitement for the next phase of life. No one in the audience could have guessed his new life would only last a year. When Minnesota Public Radio announced he had died after collapsing at the airport, I was crushed. Bill couldn’t be dead. I had just seen him. And he was just starting his new life, remember?

I knew I would go to his funeral. It was obvious. I now consider that I may have ignored that quiet voice telling me to go. I’ve done that before, argued myself out of following my instincts. But this time I didn’t.


Minnesota River, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair, all rights reservedI packed a lunch the night before, and got on the road the next morning before daylight. The funeral was at St. Paul’s Icelandic Lutheran Church, built in 1895 by immigrants. Because I knew there wouldn’t be much room in the small church, I got there two hours early. After securing a space in the back pew with my coat and bag, I went to the front to look at the floral arrangements. The flowers had come from around the globe, from everyone. An open copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was in the bouquet from his wife. When I returned to my seat, another early-arriver walked in. Poet Laureate & Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser. When I saw him, I knew what the day was going to be like.

One by one they began to arrive, the gray-haired authors. Many of them I knew, and some I only recognized from book jackets but couldn’t place their names. Ten of them were pallbearers. I was awed. Humbled. I’d watch them approach each other, hug, and weep together over losing their friend. Not competitive. Tender. Attached to each other. I was in the company of greatness, and I knew it. They were steady. Present. The media wasn’t allowed into the church, and there was a hush of holiness. We gathered, and honored, and were still.

The funeral service was a full two hours long. In addition to writing, Bill was an accomplished pianist. There were Bach piano solos and Joplin’s ragtime. An octet from the college sang Precious Lord Take My Hand. Bill’s poetry and essays were read. The preacher made us all laugh when he told how Bill sat in the choir loft during sermons and read the newspaper. Though he didn’t agree with all the theology of Lutherans, he valued his roots in that little church.

When the service was over, Bill’s wife was led out first. A tall woman who looked sad and grounded and strong and peaceful. The author-pallbearers followed her out. Some of them held hands, and they stood very close to each other. I wanted time to move slower, to be with them longer in that small place.




Minneota's library, the librarians would call Bill Holm, and he'd walk there to sign books for the tourists, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved

Minneota’s Library, the librarians would call Bill Holm,
and he’d walk there to sign books for the tourists, March
2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.

 

 

After ham sandwiches at the American Legion, I found the farm where Bill had been raised. On a deeply secluded road, the old farmstead sat on top of a hill. I got out of my car and looked at the beautiful rolling hills that Bill grew up on. I imagined the hundreds of times he walked down the same long driveway where I stood to wait for the school bus. I drove to the Icelandic cemetery and looked at the graves of his parents, imagining some of his ashes would soon be inurned there, too. I drove home slowly, filled with all I had seen.

Bill would appreciate me going to his funeral, but he wouldn’t want me to stay sentimental too long. He’d expect me to get on with it. Get on with it, now, he’d say. Be alive.




Westerheim Icelandic Cemetery, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved

Westerheim Icelandic Cemetery, March 2009,
photo © 2009 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.





 
___________________________________________

 

Letting Go of What Cannot Be Held Back

by Bill Holm


Let go of the dead now.
The rope in the water,
The cleat on the cliff,
Do them no good anymore.
Let them fall, sink, go away,
Become invisible as they tried
So hard to do in their own dying.
We needed to bother them
With what we called help.
We were the needy ones.
The dying do their own work with
Tidiness, just the right speed,
Sometimes even a little
Satisfaction. So quiet down.
Let them go. Practice
Your own song. Now.

 

___________________________________________

Poem copyright (c)2004 by Bill Holm, from his most recent book of poems “Playing the Black Piano,” Milkweed Editions, 2004.




 

Poet Bill Holm, 1943-2009, from the program for his Memorial Service in Minneota, Minnesota, original photograph by Brian Peterson, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Poet Bill Holm, 1943-2009, Memorial program photograph by QuoinMonkey, original photograph of Bill Holm © 2009 by Brian Peterson.

About Teri Blair:  Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey fondly and frequently writes. (See Postcard From Billy Collins — Kicking Off National Poetry Month for the latest post on that group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri is an active and valued member of the red Ravine community. Her other posts include A 40-Year Love Affair, about Bill Irvine’s passion for the Parkway, a landmark theater in Minneapolis that closed in 2008; and 40 Days, 8 Flags, And 1 Mennonite Choir and Thornton Wilder & Bridges, both prompted by the August 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. Teri was also one of our first guest writers, with the piece Continue Under All Circumstances.

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By Teri Blair


Five months ago I started a poetry and meditation group in my home. And I’ll tell you straight up: if I can start a poetry group, anyone can start a poetry group.

I am not well read when it comes to poets. Before doing this, if called upon to name poets I would have only been able to tick off the most obvious choices: Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson. For most of my life I’ve felt intimidated by poetry. When I’d hear a poem read, I’d usually feel like I didn’t get it. I considered the door to poetry locked and bolted, entered by only a heady few.

But at the beginning of 2008, I began to get an itch to do something to make the world a better place. I know, I know, such a cliché. But I was tired of feeling depressed by the sort of people and events that grab headlines. I was frustrated, feeling like my country was being taken over by things I didn’t like or believe in. I was worried that people weren’t reading like they used to. I wanted to do something to steer the world in the direction I wanted it to go.

The idea for the group dawned on me one day, and I recognized it immediately as something I could pull off. I could invite people over to my house; we’d sit together for an hour, hear good poetry, and be still. And that’s pretty much what we do. It’s not a complicated event.

Each month I pick out a poet. To do this, I browse in a bookstore or library, or go to an online poetry site. I like choosing poets from around the country and from varied backgrounds, but for the first meeting of the group, I picked a Nebraskan poet, just so we could get used to hearing poetry from a Midwestern voice. Since then, we’ve been to Massachusetts, North Carolina, California, and Virginia.

I select poets whose words and voices are accessible. I live in a city with a sensational library system, so I get all the poet’s books with my public library card. I sit on my living room floor with books scattered around me, and slowly page through them. Certain poems jump out at me, and these are the ones I put a bookmark next to.

The people in my poetry group have the option of helping me read, so I email them poems I’ve selected. This gives them the chance to practice reading the poems out loud before we meet. I do a little research on the poets so I can share a bit about their lives and what brought them to writing. I keep this short. I don’t think anyone wants an endless historic lecture.

When we gather, I have candles lit. We get quiet, and I tell everyone what I’ve learned about the poet whose work we’ll hear. I don’t memorize this; I have it written on a piece of paper. I play a song to begin to slow us down, and then we listen to poetry. About one poem every five minutes with silence in-between. Sometimes I can find sound recordings at the library of the authors reading their own works. So at the end, we’ll listen to the writer reading a few of his or her own poems.

So far, our poets have all been living. So we sign a card thanking them and telling them the titles of the poems we heard. I find mailing addresses online and mail the card the next day. Then we drink tea, eat snacks (I ask for a volunteer to bring treats), and hang around. That’s it.



This is what I know so far:

  1. I feel a lot better adding something of decency and substance to the world.
  2. I am getting to know poets, and I am thrilled. If you say the name Maya Angelou to me, I’m tracking with you. If Rita Dove comes to town to read, I’ll be all over her work.
  3. Everyone who comes knows that for at least one hour every month they will get to be still in a busy world.
  4. After the Mary Oliver night, a 26-year-old from our group went and bought all her books. Three people purchased tickets to hear her speak when she came to Minneapolis last March. I’m pretty sure these things wouldn’t have happened if not for the exposure to her work.
  5. We got to participate in National Poem in Your Pocket Day in April. We wouldn’t have known about it had I not been searching poetry websites.
  6. Ted Kooser wrote to our group. I’m here to say I have a postcard from a two-time Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner hanging on my bulletin board. Not bad.
  7. The people who come range in age from 26-55. It feels healthy to be in a cross-age group.
  8. Hosting these evenings is part of my writing practice. It is a tangible way to move my life in the direction I want it to go.
  9. The people who come seem genuinely happy to participate. Someone told me this morning that it feeds her soul.
  10. On Gary Soto night, a young group member (a Spanish major) read her poem twice, first in Spanish and then in English. It was deeply touching to hear another language spoken; it brought tears to our eyes. I don’t know why it did, but it was good. Gary sent us a postcard, too. Part of it is written in Spanish. That Gary.
  11. After deciding that July would feature the poetry of Louise Erdrich, my friend and I saw her a few rows back on the same airplane when we were returning from a writing retreat. It was almost too much synchronicity to grasp. The sort of serendipity that makes your head feel dizzy and your stomach full of butterflies.
  12. When Robert Bly was named Minnesota’s first Poet Laureate, we swelled with pride. Poetry mattered to us.

 

All that. And all I had was desire and a library card.




All The Best From Nebraska, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

All The Best From Nebraska, postcard (back), March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




 Golden Rule, postcard of a painting by Ted Kooser, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 24  Golden Rule, postcard of a painting by Ted Kooser, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 24  Golden Rule, postcard of a painting by Ted Kooser, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 24  Golden Rule, postcard of a painting by Ted Kooser, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 24

Golden Rule, postcard (front), painting by Ted Kooser, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 24″, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis. She is currently writing a profile series on teachers who taught in one-room rural schools before, during, and after WW II. They appear monthly in Senior Perspective.



 

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Refraction, downtown at the Minnesota Central Library during Talk of the Stacks. Ali Selim and Will Weaver discussed the making of Sweet Land.

Refraction, downtown Minnesota Central Library, March 2008, during Talk of the Stacks. Ali Selim and Will Weaver discussed the making of Sweet Land. The moment this photograph was taken, they were sitting to the left, signing books. The curved blue lines are the Fifth Street Towers. Photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








blue light refraction
bending waves around windows
bookish writers grin








-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

-related to posts: haiku (one-a-day) and Night Owl

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