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By Teri Blair



Clutter Memorial Monument, photo © 2010 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.





The town of Holcomb has been on my front burner for years. It began when I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, built momentum when I read In Cold Blood, and culminated with a road trip to Kansas to see the spot on the map that writer Truman Capote made famous. I was pulled into the 1959 story with everyone else—the lonely farmhouse, the two ex-cons who drove through the night to a place they’d never been, the murdered family. Truman’s stellar writing made me want to see it all—the Clutter Farm, the courthouse where the death sentence was pronounced, and the hotel where Truman stayed while he wrote.

The first time I drove the 850 miles I was a just a sightseer, a tourist. It was a one-time thing. I couldn’t have predicted the story would keep going, that months later I would find some long-lost relatives in Holcomb who had known the Clutters, that I would interview some of the same people Capote had, that I would make the long trip through the relentless wind several times.



Windmills of Kansas, grain elevator towering over Garden City
(seven miles from Holcomb and the site of the trial), Chinese elms
leading to the Clutter farmhouse, and the Clutter farmhouse.
Photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.





Fifty years ago Perry Smith and Richard Hickock drove across Kansas on a false tip that there was a rich farmer who had thousands of dollars hidden in a safe. Their botched robbery turned into carnage. The two were captured six weeks later, tried, convicted, and hung at a federal penitentiary. The crime was horrific, but everyone agrees, the story would have faded in time—if not for Capote. Though life would have been forever altered in Finney County, it would have returned to normal.

But it didn’t work that way. Truman wrote his book, it became a best seller, and he was catapulted to the top of the literary world. Then Hollywood got on board with a string of successful movies based on the book. Because of one author, there has been a constant, unending stream of people like me in Holcomb. Curious. Prying. Asking. Looking. Bringing it up. Over and over and over. When I interviewed Duane West a few years ago (the local lawyer who got the murderers convicted), he asked why people like me don’t think of something else to do. He’s been pestered for so many interviews since 1959 that he won’t talk to anyone unless they make a donation to the Boy Scouts of Finney County.




         

                             

Finney County Courthouse and stairs Capote climbed during the trial to
the courtroom. Photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.





In September, Holcomb dedicated a monument to the Clutters. Its intent is to honor the four people who died: Herb, Bonnie, Nancy, and Kenyon. They were upstanding, involved members of their community. That’s what the monument focuses on, not what garnished the attention: their brutal deaths described in the book In Cold Blood. It was a solid community step to take the Clutters back from Truman and Hollywood and bring them home to their people.

The last time I was in Kansas, I went to the annual Ground Hog Supper held at the Methodist Church. It was the Clutters’ church, the one where the four-family funeral was held in 1959. I sat in the same Fellowship Hall where the mourners would have eaten their post-burial lunch. The room was packed. Just like in 1959. And the people were the same as then—farmers, insurance salesmen, clerks. I liked them. They reminded me of people I grew up around. And I didn’t want them to be bothered with gawkers like me any longer.



Park sign leading to Clutter Memorial Monument,
photo © 2010 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.





Was Truman right or wrong to tell their story? I loved the book and what it did for American writing. But was it worth the price Holcomb had to pay? Though I won’t pass judgment, one thing is clear: a good writer’s work leaves results. When Capote left New York to set up shop in Kansas, he pulled us in. The pull has lasted five decades. His book kept a wound open. And Truman suffered, too. Researching and publishing In Cold Blood punctuated his dramatic descent into alcoholism.

So for me, for this one writer, I’ve decided to set it down. If I go back to Holcomb someday to visit my cousins, I’ll enjoy the Arkansas River that flows through the town, and I’ll buy a Cherry Limeade because I can’t get them where I live. But that’s it. No more questions.

I’ll just let the people be. It’s time.



Wheatlands Hotel, where Truman Capote stayed,
photo © 2010 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.






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 Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander 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 has written many posts on red Ravine, but this current piece is a follow-up and closure of sorts to her first guest post here, Continue Under All Circumstances, which she wrote on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas.

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Veins, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, October 2009, all photos
© 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

Day to day life creeps up on you. Practice falls by the wayside. Goals seem out of reach. Something inside makes you keep going.

Early October was my second time in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin to meet with three other Midwest writers in retreat. We arrived on Sunday, left on Wednesday, but we sure packed in the writing. I nearly filled an entire notebook. We try to meet every 6 months. The first night, we check in, slip sheets on the cabin beds, walk by Lake Michigan, get all the gossip and gabbing out of the way. The next day we dive in.

It’s cold this time of year. One person becomes the Firekeeper. The wood pile needs to be replenished. The fire keeps us warm. There is a need for leadership, someone to time the Writing Practices, lead the slow walking, provide structure for the silence — a Timekeeper. Most traditions have a Firekeeper and a Timekeeper. I am grateful for their effort.

Before the writing begins, we tear off pages of a lined yellow tablet, jot down Writing Topics, and throw them into a bowl. We take turns choosing a Topic and rotate who reads first. Some of the best Writing Practices surface from the strangest Writing Topics. My Other Self. Holy-Moley. The Broken Glass. After a few years of meeting, we have settled into a groove. I trust these writers.

One of the Writing Topics we drew out of the bowl was  “I Write Because…” When the retreat was over, I asked everyone if they would mind if I published the practices. For me, they harken back to the days when ybonesy and I first launched red Ravine (it grew out of our practice). And she has written with these writers, too. Bob and Teri have been frequent guests on red Ravine. Jude was one of our first guests, writing her piece 25 Reasons I Write from one of the cabins near the lake.

I want to share the structure of our writing retreats because anyone can form a writing group. Community is important. For the four of us, meeting together works because we live in fairly close proximity in the Midwest. We can make the drive in 8 to 10 hours if we want to. Last time, Teri, Jude, and I flew to Kansas City, Missouri. We’re thinking about meeting in Duluth, Minnesota on Lake Superior in 6 months.

I don’t want to make it sound easy. It takes a financial investment up front. And a continued commitment to check in with each other and plan the next meeting at least 3 months ahead. But the rewards are plentiful. Accountability. Support. People who believe in me when I forget how to believe in myself. Some days it feels like our hands are going to fall off from the writing. We crave the silence.

We laugh long and hard. Deep belly laughs. Sometimes we cry.  It feels good to laugh like that, to share meals together. Teri brings wild rice soup from Minnesota. Bob travels with a different kind of Kansas City barbecue each time we meet. Jude prepares her favorite dishes. I don’t like to cook. I volunteer to do the dishes.

The Timekeeper sent me a rundown of our schedule. It works pretty much the same way each time we meet. We follow what we learned from Natalie Goldberg about silence and structure and Writing Practice. Sit, walk, write. We do it because we don’t want to be tossed away. We do it because, for us, it works. It’s one way to write. It teaches discipline. It’s solid. It takes us where we need to go.

_____________________________

 
 

 Writing Retreat Schedule

 
 

Wake up. Silence begins.
Meet for sit, walk, write at 9 a.m.
Sit for 20 minutes.
Walk for 5-10 minutes.
Write: four, 10-minute Writing Practices…one right after the other.
Read one practice, go around the group.
Repeat for the remaining three practices.
Break for 5-10 minutes. (Can break before reading, but usually break after reading)
Return to group.
Write two more practices.
Read them to each other.
About 11:30, break for lunch. Some prep required and we ate lunch in silence.
In silence and on our own until 3 p.m. when we return to the group.
Sit for 20 minutes.
Walk for 5-10 minutes.
Write: four, 10-minute writing practices.
Read each practice write to the group.
Break for dinner about 5:30 p.m.
Break silence.
Dinner at 6.
Talking about writing, life, etc.
Read writing projects we are working on.

 
 

Second Day

Repeat of the first day.

 
 

Third/Last Day

Meet for discussion of goals for next 6 months.
Sit for 10 minutes.
Then take 1/2 hour or 45 minutes to formulate writing/creative goals for the next 6 months.
Meet in group.
Each person discusses goals.
Group comments and person refines goals.

Each member of the group emails their goals to one person who puts them all together, sends them out for review, and then issues final email to group with all the goals listed.

Report to each other on 15th of the month and the last day of the month on our progress…a check-in.

 
 

_____________________________

 
 
 

What I really want to say is I’m grateful for other writers. I admire and respect those who hone their craft, who dedicate time to their practice, who complete projects and get their work out there (no matter how long it takes).

 
 

For me, these self-propelled mini-retreats work because:

  • Follow the same Sit, Walk, Write structure each time. Consistent format.
  • Time to talk, laugh, share. Time for silence. Time alone for reflection. Time to stare into space.
  • No shame, no blame. We write our asses off, we read aloud. No crosstalk or feedback (except around goals).
  • Set 6 month goals, check in every two weeks. Learn that we all go through highs and lows; we all want to quit writing at times.
  • Clarity about money. Split the costs of lodging and groceries.
  • Short visits to museums, cafes, local color, either before or after retreat.
  • Practice feeds practice. Apply what is learned to other practices: photography, haiku, poetry, art.
  • What happens at the retreat, stays at the retreat.

 
Maybe Bob, Jude, and Teri will share more about why these mini-retreats work for them. I was reading through my notebook from early October. There were notes I had jotted in the margins from a conversation we had about what success as a writer means to each of us. What does success mean to you?

What would your writing retreat look like? Go for it. Choose a time. Hook up with other writers. Create a structure. Write. Don’t look for perfection. Let yourself slip up, make mistakes, stop writing for a while if you want to. But don’t be tossed away. Here are our unedited Writing Practices on why we write. Why do you write?

 
 

I Write Because…10 minutes. Go!

 
 
 

____________________

 
 
 

Teri Blair

 
 

I don’t know why I write anymore. That’s the problem. I used to write because I needed to. That was most of my life. Most of my life until I took a sabbatical six years ago. Until then, I found solace on the page; I straightened out my life with a pen and paper. Writing was one of my best friends…certainly a most faithful friend.

And then, I took the sabbatical and began this journey. This concentrate-on-writing-journey. It went well initially. I let myself write all those essays, I joined the Blue Mooners writing group, I studied with Natalie Goldberg, and I starting working with Scott. I sent my work out and even got some small paychecks from editors. But somewhere in there, during these six years, it changed. People started asking me if I had sold anything, asking me about writing all the time. I wanted them to ask me, and then I didn’t. I was losing something by involving everyone, and then it just turned into a pressure. I was writing to have an answer to their questions. Or to feel special. When this was dawning on me, I went to hear Mary Oliver at the State Theater. She told the writers in the audience to write a long, long time before they tried to publish. I knew she was right. I knew I had to go back inside myself if I was going to save this thing that I had once loved and needed and felt close to.

The trip out of the pressure has been much more difficult than the joy-ride in. And now, all I want to do is write, but nothing comes. The voice inside prods: Why do you want to write? Are you going to try to get your life needs met through me? If I come back, will you go down the same old path?

I’m not yet solid in my convictions, though very close.

 
 

____________________

 
 
 

Jude Ford

 
 
I write because…there are as many reasons to do it as there are reasons not to. At this point, after all these years of honing my writing skills, it would feel like a waste – and a loss – to not do it.

I write because I love to read. Reading triggers my mind to come up with my own ways of arranging words. Reading reminds me of what I want/need to say.

I write because I didn’t feel listened to as a kid. Yeah, yeah, I probably talked so much back then that no one ever could listen to me enough to make me feel heard. My father used to like to say I’d been vaccinated with a phonograph needle in infancy. (I just realized what a dated image that is. Who ever associates a needle with sound in 2009?!)

I don’t feel well listened to even now, I guess. I got into the habit, as I was growing up, of speaking less and less and by the time I turned 21, I’d perfected the art of being agreeable rather than speaking up about who I was or what I thought. I didn’t even know, myself, who I was or what I thought half the time.

But I wrote. Starting when I was 19 and left home for good, I wrote all the time. My journals from my 20’s are full of depression and melodrama, poems that sound as young as I was. When I read them now, they make me cringe.

And yet – I remember what those journals were to me at the time, my one lifeline, my safest place, the only place in my life where I brought all of my true self.

I write still so that I can find out who I am and what I think. There are other lifelines now – Chris, my friends, my work – where I also bring my true self but writing remains one of my mainstays.

 
 

____________________

 
 
 

Bob Chrisman

 
 
I write because something inside me wants to tell my stories, put them outside myself and free up the space they take inside me, free up that energy I use to keep the unpleasant ones out of my consciousness. I write because I want to make sense of a non-sensical life, the one I live. Sometimes the connections don’t become obvious until I see them laid out on paper in front of me.

I write to tell my story so that anyone out there who is or has experienced some of the things I have will know they aren’t alone, will know that I survived what they are going through. I write to connect with other people because when I do I feel successful as a human being.

I write because I must. Writing makes me feel free once I’m finished. Starting a piece may prove difficult. I may even avoid writing for days or weeks, but once I begin and finish a difficult piece I feel freer.

I write because writing has introduced me to some of the most wonderful people in the world, people who give me hope that we may deal with our problems and change the world, save us from ourselves.

I write because I must tell my truth to the world, as much as I feel safe telling.

I write because it feels good to see the words appear on the paper as the pen glides across the page. Sometimes surprises happen. Things appear that I didn’t consciously mean to say. Misspelled words give new meaning to what I said, new truth.

I write because writing gives me control over my life.

 
 

____________________

 
 
 

QuoinMonkey

 
 

I write because I love to write. I love writers. I write because it’s a place that is still. I let myself dive into the black. I am honest with myself. Things never seem to be as bad as I think they are when I write.

I write to make sense out of my life. My mother’s life. My grandmother’s life. My crazy family. I write with a community of writers because I know I’m not alone. Because they help me hold the space. Because they are not afraid of what they might find in the silence.

I write to learn about things I would never research if it were not for writing. I write to learn. I write to quell the hunger. I write to still my insatiable curiosity.

I write to help me confront my own death. I write to find my voice, to tap into my inner courage. I write to not feel so alone. Yet writing is lonely. And when I write I am often alone. I write to connect with what is important to me. To connect with others. I write. I write. I write.

I have always written. But writing with wild abandon is something I’ve had to relearn as an adult.

I write to push myself outside of the lines. Because I care about the writers who came before me. I write to teach others how to write. Don’t do as I say; do as I do.

Writing practice frees me. But it’s not a finished piece. It may never be a finished piece. Yet it might.

Writing Practice takes me where I need to go. Teaches me Faith. Patience. Courage. Risktaking. That it’s okay to cry. Conflict resolution. What I care about. What I could care less about.

I don’t have to love everyone or everything. Writing is structure. It teaches me how to live.

 

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

-related to Topic: WRITING TOPIC — 25 REASONS I WRITE

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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.




height="225"

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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By Teri Blair


Parkway Marquee, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Parkway Marquee, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



In 1989 the Academy-Award winning Cinema Paradiso was released. The Italian film takes place in a post-World War II Sicilian village, and chronicles the friendship of a young boy, Toto, and the town’s gruff but lovable movie projectionist, Alfredo. Toto is fascinated by everything at the theater — the celluloid film, the projector, and the lion’s roaring mouth on the wall through which images pass from film to screen. We watch Hardware, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Toto mature from mischievous child, to earnest young man, to successful filmmaker. But in-between scenes of first love and failing health and a changing Italian community, we see and know something else. We are witnessing the life of someone who is undeniably, unequivocally passionate about one thing — movies.

Nineteen eighty-nine was also the year I began attending a theater in south Minneapolis that showed art house films, the sort of movies that weren’t on every screen in town. I rather stumbled upon the Parkway. There was a foreign film playing there that I hadn’t seen, and the theater’s recording said there was free lighted parking a block away. When I arrived, I knew I was at a theater that was different from any other in town. But what I didn’t know was that the theater was owned by someone who is undeniably, unequivocally passionate about one thing — movies.

Bill Irvine’s livelihood in the theater business began, like Toto’s, as a youngster. At thirteen, he was already an avid movie From Here To Eternity , Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.enthusiast who saw at least one picture a week. One Thursday evening in spring, young Bill was walking by the Parkway Theater. The owner needed someone to change the marquee for the upcoming weekend movie. His regular marquee man hadn’t shown. Bill heard, “Hey kid! Do you want to make a buck?” He brought the ladder outside and put up the new film, Romeo and Juliet. He was paid a dollar, a Nut Goodie, and offered the same job the following Thursday. Before long he was working behind the candy counter, then selling tickets, and by the time he was a junior in high school, was managing the entire theater.

That was 40 years ago. Last summer, the 53-year-old fixture at 48th and Chicago ended his career at the Parkway and turned over his theater keys to Joe Senkyr, owner of next-door Pepitos restaurant.Rows, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

I caught up with Bill a few weeks ago. I wanted to hear his story. After all, who stays at a job for 40 years, let alone at one location? There is a boyish openness about Bill, a casual baseball hat, a ready smile. He was ready to talk, and as willing to divulge the hazards of his chosen profession as the rewards.

Bill never had a grand scheme to become an actor or a filmmaker himself. After high school he attended St. Thomas and Brown Institute to study Journalism and Broadcast Journalism. But at the young age of 20, he decided to make an offer on the up-for-sale Parkway. He knew the business inside and out, having already been an employee for seven years, and had no trouble getting several banks to offer him a loan to buy the place.

But instead of selling the theater to this neighborhood kid, then-owner Mel Lebewitz sold it to Jim Sparks, a man from Omaha who The Peerless, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reservedspecialized in porn theaters across the country…a move that mystifies Bill to this day. The community was outraged and months of demonstrations and picketing ensued. After six months of hassles, Sparks was ready to unload the Parkway, and Bill (still 20), bought it for $140,000 with his business partner Pat Nikoloff. Papers were signed in March of 1976, and six days later Bill opened with a double feature, The Pink Panther, and Bill Cosby’s Let’s Do it Again.

Bill was quickly enfolded into the Twin City theater-owner community. It was a Jewish-dominated industry, and with a name lParkway Goddess, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.ike Irvine, Bill let himself pass for Jewish…even though his heritage is Scottish and English. “No one asked me, so I never told,” Bill laughs.

Bill’s outgoing personality lent itself to the business. He grew to know the stories of his customers’ lives, and they became his friends. He saw their children grow up, celebrated job promotions, and grieved a lost parent. And along with the relationships, he created a theater known for its documentaries, foreign films, and thought-provoking dramas.

“I have loved what I have done, and I am happy,” Bill mused. “If you don’t love your job, you start to hate life and become bitter and mean. If I were talking to a 25-year-old, I would tell them to set their sights high doing something they love, stick with it, and be good at it.”



The movie industry changed during the 40 years that Bill owned the Parkway. When he began, there were several one-screen theaters in town. They are now the rare exception, having given way to 10-and 20-plex theaters. “When I started in the business, actors were well-trained in their craft. Now, theaters are desperate to fill screens. The integrity of films has suffered, and most movies have no shelf life. If someone has an attractive face, they slap them up on the screen and call them an actor.”

But in the midst of this, Bill maintained a caliber of quality movies that brought his faithful customer base back week after week. He spent hours combing through sample DVDs to find good selections. “I think most people would be surprised by how time-consuming this job is,” he says. “It takes so much time to find a good movie.”

Simplex, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Bill has his own personal favorites, of course:  the documentary Brother’s Keeper, Waiting for Guffman, and Shawshank Redemption. The actors who top his list are Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Woody Allen, and Michael Caine. The longest-running movie in Parkway’s history was Shirley Valentine, the story of a woman who flees her stale life in England to begin again in Greece. It stayed at the Parkway for 38 weeks.

What is next for Bill? “Well, I’d like to travel. I want to see New Zealand and Australia. I may open up another theater in St. Cloud or St. Paul; I’ve had a job offer from Columbia Film Society in South Carolina. But I haven’t really decided.”

Blueprint, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Blueprint, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


And how about the Parkway? New owner Senkyr has already begun major renovations:  a newly exposed balcony railing, rich colors and murals, seats torn out to make room for a larger stage for live theater. Weekly changes are quickly making the old Parkway harder to remember as the new one is born.

And what about us, those of us who look first at what is playing at the Parkway when we open up the movie section? We likely won’t find another movie theater where the owner calls us by name when we walk through the door, where we can ask for a glass of water and not be charged for it, and where our business is so clearly appreciated.

     Ladies, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Up The Down Staircase, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Stripes, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Cut Out, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I have never minded that there were some lumpy seats and peeling paint on the ceiling. Because the Parkway has maintained something that is hard to come by these days — a sense of belonging and community. In a big city we have had a place that has felt a little like a small town. A place where we could enjoy the talent of someone who knew his business and the quality of films never diminished. A place where the popcorn was always fresh and the movies ever enchanting.

We have been lucky. We have gotten to be a part of a Bill’s 40-year love affair. A love affair with the movies.



Lights, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Parkway Lights, inside the Parkway Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, 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 are appearing monthly in Senior Perspective.


About profiling, Teri says:  I stumbled onto profiling quite by accident. I owned a dairy barn that had been a dance hall during the Depression, and I wanted to meet people who had danced there. When I heard their stories, it was obvious they had to be recorded. One thing quickly led to another, and before long I had a series of essays on my hands that people wanted to read.

I typically go into an interview with 10 questions, one tape recorder, and two cameras. I’ve learned through many fits and starts how to adapt questions, change directions, and let the real story emerge. I’ve had two tape recorders break during interviews, several rolls of film come back blurry, and been in situations where I was so nervous I could barely keep from passing out. I’ve also had the time of my life…adventures worth their weight in gold.

Profiling gives me the chance to shine lights on people who deserve attention for adding something of value to our world. That is my greatest reward.

Favorite profile experience to date:  After interviewing a 14-year-old musher, he took me on an invigorating dogsled ride through ditches, woods, and down snow-covered gravel roads. I learned that a 14-year-old boy has only one speed he is interested in: FAST.



Through The Rain, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Through The Rain, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Through The Rain, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



About the photography:  All the photographs were taken on September 20th, 2007 by QuoinMonkey during an Ani DiFranco poetry reading at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis. She would later find out, the timing occurred shortly after Bill Irvine transferred ownership of the Parkway Theater. The seeds for a collaboration between Teri’s profile and the Parkway photographs were planted in a Comment thread on The Brave One. The result is this chance meeting between language and the visual.

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By Teri Blair

It’s been 40 days since the 35W Bridge collapsed. Today, a sunny Fall day, I’ve come down to view the site…the first day (since the first fitful days of August) that I’ve been here. I’m writing this from the 10th Ave Bridge. I stand close enough to the collapse site to see everything, practically close enough to touch the pillars, the crushed railroad cars, the twisted steel. It looks smaller than I expected, like that feeling I have when I go back to my elementary school and the rooms seem little.

As in early August, a huge crowd gathers. We stand in respectful silence and awe. Seeing. It sinks in, one level deeper. In the river there are 5 barges, the ones used for clean up. They bob slightly in the muddy Mississippi, and I wonder how the divers found anyone. The river is dark, even with the midday sun. Two of the barges have cranes several stories high perched on them, and I don’t see the flags at first. I can’t see much at first. There is too much to look at, and all I can do is stand there. Absorbing it into my cells. But then I see it; a flag is flying against the blue sky, the Minneapolis skyline in the background. I instantly remember seeing the flags flying at Ground Zero, and I have the same rush of faith and patriotism and tenderness for what has happened. I look around, and see flags everywhere around the collapse site. There are 8. On the cranes, the barges, the trailer where the demolition crew takes their breaks. And I know someone thought that through. It was the way someone showed up for what happened here.

I walk the length of the bridge. Slowly. When I get to the end and turn to walk back, women begin to pass me wearing cotton dresses and white bonnets. And then their men come. The single ones clean-shaven, the married with beards. My attention turns from the bridge to the Mennonites, and I realize they are curious, too. Then, quite suddenly, the group of 50 clusters near one of the lookout points and forms a choir. They begin to sing a cappella hymns in 4-part harmony. Their voices are gentle, soothing, the music floating over the site and the people viewing it. I am singing the lyrics with them in my head—all familiar songs from my early upbringing in the church. A Mennonite man approaches me with a CD of their music. I accept it. He tells me they have driven up from southern Iowa to sing on the bridge. A 5-hour trip. They sing 7 songs, and continue across the bridge.

I continue walking. An artist paints the collapsed bridge with her oils, an easel set up. Parents quietly explain to their children what they’re seeing. The voices are mainly those of the children, innocent questions about how people drown, would the choo-choo train be okay; one cries when he thinks his big brother has a better view.

I came here today simply because I needed to. I came without expectations. It was time. What I didn’t plan on was the feeling of tremendous unity. Everyone tries to make sense of this, and brings what they have. The Army Corps of Engineers brings their flags; the Mennonites bring their music, the artist her palette. A feeling of deep peace permeates the crowd. And I can see somehow (as the Mennonites have sung)…It is well with my soul.


About Teri:  Teri is a writer from Minnesota, living in Minneapolis. She went to the I-35W collapse site every day for several days immediately following the tragedy, but she was not able to see the bridge up close due to barricades blocking public access. Teri again visited the site this past weekend, where she did the writing practice “40 Days, 8 Flags, and 1 Mennonite Choir.” This post is a follow-up to “Thornton Wilder & Bridges,” a piece Teri wrote shortly after the August 1, 2007, bridge collapse.

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In her post Thornton Wilder & Bridges, guest writer Teri Blair said this about Mr. Schminda, her former teacher:

Years ago, I was given a reading list by my 11th grade English teacher. I was in the college prep class, and the list of 100 or so books were ones he wanted us to read before we graduated from high school. It wasn’t just his idea. He told us a committee of English professors had compiled it. These books were considered the bare-bones-minimum to have read before we darkened the first door of a collegiate hall.

This piqued the interest of several readers — myself included — and we asked to see the list. Teri generously reproduced it from mimeographed pages carried with her since high school. So, without further ado…(drumroll)…and in no apparent order except that which made sense to Mr. Schminda et al., here is…


THE “95 BOOKS” LIST
Provided by Teri Blair

JOHN STEINBECK
          THE GRAPES OF WRATH
          CANNERY ROW

HERMAN MELVILLE
          MOBY DICK
          WHITE JACKET
          TYPEE
          OMOO

WILLIAM FAULKNER
          LIGHT IN AUGUST
          INTRUDER IN THE DUST

MARK TWAIN
          PUDD’NHEAD WILSON
          CONNECTICUT YANKEE

JAMES FENIMORE COOPER
          THE DEERSLAYER
          THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS

WILLA CATHER
          O PIONEERS!
          MY ANTONIA

ERNEST HEMINGWAY
          A FAREWELL TO ARMS
          FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
          THE SUN ALSO RISES
          ISLANDS IN THE STREAM

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
          THE GREAT GATSBY

THORNTON WILDER
          THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY
          OUR TOWN

THEODORE DREISER
          THE AMERICAN TRAGEDY
          SISTER CARRIE

FRANK NORRIS
          THE OCTOPUS
          MCTEAGUE

STEPHEN CRANE
          THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
          MAGGIE: A GIRL OF THE STREETS

WALTER VAN TILBURG CLARK
          THE OX-BOW INCIDENT

JOHN HERSEY
          THE CHILD BUYER

DANIEL KEYES
          FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON

OLE ROLVAAG
          GIANTS IN THE EARTH

WILLIAM BARRETT
          LILIES OF THE FIELD

SINCLAIR LEWIS
          MAIN STREET
          ARROWSMITH
          BABBITT
          DODSWORTH
          ELMER GANTRY

EDNA FERBER
          CIMMARRON
          GIANT
          ICE PALACE

UPTON SINCLAIR
          THE JUNGLE

OWEN WISTER
          THE VIRGINIAN

NORMAN MAILER
          THE NAKED AND THE DEAD

HERMON WOUK
          THE CAINE MUTINY

HARPER LEE
          TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
          UNCLE TOM’S CABIN

LORRAINE HANSBERRY
          A RAISIN IN THE SUN

OLIVER LAFARGE
          LAUGHING BOY

THOMAS FALL
          THE ORDEAL OF RUNNING STANDING

PAUL ZINDEL
          THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-THE-MOON
          MARIGOLDS

JAMES AGEE
          A DEATH IN THE FAMILY

ROBERT PENN WARREN
          ALL THE KING’S MEN

JEAN MERRILL
          THE PUSHCART WAR

JOHN KNOWLES
          A SEPARATE PEACE

DALTON TRUMBO
          JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN

MICHAEL CRICHTON
          THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN
          THE TERMINAL MAN

ARTHUR CLARKE
          2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

RAY BRADBURY
          FAHRENHEIT 451

NEVIL SHUTE
          ON THE BEACH

PAT FRANK
          ALAS, BABYLON

MARGARET MITCHELL
          GONE WITH THE WIND

BETTY SMITH
          A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN

RICHARD WRIGHT
          NATIVE SON

RALPH ELLISON
          THE INVISIBLE MAN

HAL BORLAND
          WHEN THE LEGENDS DIE

LEONA RIENOW
          THE YEAR OF THE LAST EAGLE

HAMLIN GARLAND
          SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDER
          DAUGHTER OF THE MIDDLE BORDER

EDITH WHARTON
          AGE OF INNOCENCE

JACK LONDON
          WHITE FANG
          CALL OF THE WILD
          SEA WOLF

CARL SANDBURG
          REMEMBRANCE ROCK

PEARL BUCK
          THE GOOD EARTH

RICHARD H. DANA
          TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
          HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES
          SCARLET LETTER

JESSAMYN WEST
          THE FRIENDLY PERSUASION

ALDOUS HUXLEY
          BRAVE NEW WORLD

SAUL BELLOW
          THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH

ARTHUR MILLER
          THE CRUCIBLE

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS
          CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
          A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

WASHINGTON IRVING
          THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
          RIP VAN WINKLE

EDGAR ALLAN POE
          THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
          THE RAVEN

BRET HARTE
          SELECTED STORIES OF BRET HARTE

SHERWOOD ANDERSON
          WINESBURG, OHIO

J.D.SALINGER
          THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

LANGSTON HUGHES
          SELECTED POEMS OF LANGSTON HUGHES

JAMES THURBER
          MY LIFE AND HARD TIMES

EUGENE O’NEILL
          BEYOND THE HORIZON


Postscript
In a brief email exchange about her former teacher, Teri said:

Mr. Schminda is retired now, but lives in the same small town where he taught English to high school juniors. He whet my appetite for good books, and it was more than passing on the list of classics to read. He was thrilled about literature and authors.

One of the books we read the year he was my teacher was Moby Dick. I remember him pacing up and down the aisles between desks waving his paperback in the air and talking about Captain Ahab. He got fired up thinking about the adventure of the whale hunt.

When we read The Grapes of Wrath, I was desperate to go to Oklahoma and retrace the steps of the Okies fleeing the dust bowl. I wanted to know and love books as Mr. Schminda did. We all had to do an in-depth study of a writer; I picked James Weldon Johnson, my friend Pam chose Stephan Crane, and Sherri’s was John Steinbeck.

Mr. Schminda told us that we’d have to write one paper after another once we got to college. He told us by the time we left 11th grade he was determined that we’d know how to write term papers. We wrote and wrote and wrote. And when I got to college, thanks to his instruction, I knew how to write.

Thanks, Teri, for sharing Mr. Schminda with us, and thank you Mr. Schminda for inspiring Teri and countless others with your passion for reading and writing.

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